Leviticus (TOTC) by Jay Sklar

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Most Christians find Leviticus rather difficult to grasp. Here is a volume aimed at Bible students and pastors that will provide real help at an economical price. Mr. Skylar has spent much of his career on this portion of Scripture and it shows.

There is a fine Introduction that runs through page 84. It well addresses the more vexing issues of Leviticus. Solidly conservative in its conclusions, this volume well handles the ethical questions that arise. The categories of sin that are clearly present are explained as are the ritual states of impure, pure, and holy. Great care is given where our cultural simply is not familiar with what is asked of the Israelites. There are some fine charts that give visual help and greatly increase our comprehension.

Blood atonement is given its due. the illustration of a check covering the debt before it clears the bank was distinctly rewarding. Because it is so foreign to our thinking, ritual and why it can be so important is brought out. The Introduction ends where I think any one on Leviticus should–Jesus!

In the commentary proper every passage is given sufficient, interesting, and helpful discussion. You could not help but gain by this fine volume. The Tyndale Commentary series now under revision finds another worthy volume here. I highly recommend it.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

 

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

He’s still got it. David McCullough, a favorite for many of us, weaves another powerful tale. I’ll confess in my looking forward to his next book that I was disappointed when I saw the press clippings for it some months ago. I wanted another John Adams or 1776. I don’t feel that way after actually reading the book. In the hands of this master writer, we learn both how important and interesting were Wilbur and Orville and how revolutionary flying was when they brought it about. I don’t believe anything in my lifetime has equaled taking to the skies in the early 1900s.

Wilbur and Orville were unique. Never showing any interest in getting married, never afraid to go their own way no matter what anyone else thought, and never deviating from the raising of their preacher father, they do not fit the common mold. Dismiss out of hand any comments that the characterizations here are one-dimensional. The Wright brothers simply do not fit the modern mold especially. Mr. McCullough obviously felt no need to manufacture some speculations that tantalize our generation. He just gave us the Wright brothers as they were. I enjoyed getting to know them and have nothing but respect for them. The saw the prize out ahead of them and never rested till they had it.

The setbacks, the hardships (Kitty Hawk was not pleasant then), the secrecy when fame was dangling in front of them, the danger, the crashes, the occasional family drama but unwavering devotion–the story never sags. The competition with others trying to get the title of first to truly fly was always part or the story. The initial reluctance of the U.S. to show interest while France was ready to embrace them is interestingly portrayed. You admired the brilliance of these amateur mechanics as you read and are amazed at the mathematical and scientific ground they covered in their relentless research.

This volume can proudly take its place on the hollowed bookshelf of Mr. McCullough’s writings. Another piece of our history is now preserved with distinction.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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Carta Jerusalem Partners With Hendrickson Publishers

A fortuitous development in Christian publishing has happened with Carta-Jerusalem now distributing its titles in the USA through Hendrickson Publishers. I have long felt that Carta was the premier Bible Atlas makers in the world. The only problem is that being based in Israel they were not as well known in the USA as they deserved to be. Only a couple of their atlases were widely known.

They publish the pastors first choice for an atlas with their Carta Bible Atlas.

They also have the most comprehensive Bible Atlas available in The Sacred Bridge. While it is a scholar’s delight, pastors will find it an incredible resource. The pictures and scholarly information well supplement the incredible maps. Anton Rainey and R. Steven Notley are top-flight scholars perfect for such an endeavor while the maps are classic Carta, only this time in full color. An ambitious undertaking that delivers what it advertises. I don’t agree with every point made, but I love this atlas.

Look for In The Master’s Steps: The Gospel In The Land by R. Stephen Notley that condenses some material in the preceding volume for a wider audience.

The Carta Jerusalem Atlas by Dan Bahat is most helpful volume I know of on that subject.

They have many volumes to help in geographic or historical background, as well as help for Holy Land travelers.

The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan, and the Sinai by G.S.P. Freeman-Grenville is thrilling. Though some of the road information is out of date, this is an experience. The armchair traveler will not be disappointed, nor will the modern pilgrim. You will have to do your homework for sites in the West Bank, but this book makes you thirst to go.

The River Jordan: An Illustrated Guide From Bible Days to the Present is great for specific site information. The pictures and maps are choice. Though it extends to sites a long way from Jordan, it is good enough to make you wish it covered every site. 

Any map by Carta will greatly aid you in travel. These maps were a blessing to me when I went on a solo trip there in 2010. There are other Carta titles I look forward to perusing in the future.

Hendrickson Publishers are a good partner for Carta as they are well known in the Christian world. They have supplied us with classic titles for years that we are so glad to see in print. 

Check them out at here and click on the Carta catalog.

 

Old Fashioned Church? (IBTR #64)

A battle rages on today that will last until Jesus comes–the battle between traditional church and something newer or contemporary. I fall in a more conservative line than many, yet do not get as worked up about some of the newer stuff as some do. In the Independent Baptist world the battle is even more intense than in other circles. There is not, to my mind, some simple answer that is beyond dispute. In either case the argument will go better if there is no one in the room from the other side.

Still, there is an unusual phenomenon in these days. Some advertise themselves as being one of the few that still do “old fashioned church”. Again, if someone says they are traditional or conservative, those terms at least make sense. We have some idea what that means and it seems at least fair advertising.

While there is not one uniform model of the churches that call themselves old-fashioned, some of them carry a few similar traits. We should, too, specify that calling ourselves old fashioned when we feel the whole world is running ahead of us is a fair and common usage of the word. To use it, though, as many do now should have a more accurate time element to it–it should be at least a little ancient.

In my unscientific observation, I have noticed many of these churches will have conservative music, though it may have some get-up-and-go to it. Others may prefer a great deal of shouting. Others a very specific order of service. I have nothing negative to say about any of it. Phrases like “have it your way” come to mind; or as they said where I grew up, “More power to you.”

The funny thing is how did those specific things become the standard bearer of being old fashioned? Right or wrong, how far back can you really trace them? If you carried one of these old fashioned services back just 100 years, how do you think it would have been perceived? Or how about going on back to the frontier in colonial days? Do you think you would have been thought some sort of modern usurper of the godly way of doing church? I think you likely would have. I think we have no evidence that our “old fashioned ways” look anything like what a service led by the Apostle Paul would have.

A lively, yet very conservative, piano piece would not have been accepted in the not-so-recent past. I have read of the scandal the first organ playing brought to church services in the Middle Ages. 

It is a fair discussion to try to figure out what is appropriate for our churches, or more importantly, what would please Christ. Whether we all arrive at the same answer, we should all seek the Lord till we think we are where He would want us to be. On the other hand, I don’t see how we are going to make much progress on the discussion between ourselves until we learn to choose our words more carefully. I am not sure “old fashioned” as often used is very accurate.

Find all articles in the series here.

  

Reading Non-Fiction

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I wonder if any of you are like me: you read so much in a few areas that you fail to read in other great areas. I read so much on Bible study, theology, and ministry that I miss other helpful things. For the preacher particularly, it is this kind of broader reading that will imbibe realness throbbing with life into our preaching.

That is not to say we should just read anything of the millions of books printed. Pablum is all around us! But there are wonderfully enriching books too. Great literature, non-fiction writing including biography and history can all made distinct contributions to our lives. 

I want to focus on non-fiction in this post. Here are four outstanding titles that will stick with you for a long time. You may notice that three of the four are by the same author—David McCullough. When you find an author that really connects with you, you should feel free to go to that well again and again.

As a prelude to this post I went to my Goodreads account and looked at several of my friend’s reviews there and noticed that many, and especially the preachers, had some of these kinds of titles listed.

I may add other reviews of this sort later and so I will kind of make this post the hub for reviews or discussion on non-fiction titles (though I plan a separate one for Presidential Biography).

I would love to hear recommendations from others since many of you may have read more than me in this category and I personally need to expand. Just send me a message or use the comments section of this blog.

  1. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

What a story! A friend, Mike Montgomery, recommended this title to me. As he described the book, I noticed he could recall more facts than one could usually muster from a book previously read. I thought then that book must have been special to have gripped him so. I later read it and it was all of that and more.

It is the story of Louis Zamperini. A rough-and-tumble youth finally guided by a loving brother to run track, he rose all the way to the Olympics and even met a pre-WWII Hitler. Later called into service in the WWII Pacific Theater, he was shot down and spent a harrowing 47 days in shark-infested waters on a raft with little food. This part of the story alone would have made an awesome book, but then he was captured by the Japanese.

His suffering at the hands of the Bird, warden of the prisoner camp, are beyond description. Ms. Hillenbrand did a great job in telling the story, so much so that you continually wanted to get your hands on the Bird as you read. There are so many interesting things, so much determination, but you can read and find out yourself.

He got saved after the war and his quest to go and forgive his tormentors is a challenge to all Christians. Ms. Hillenbrand is not a Christian writer, but did little to obscure this telling fact. The recent film made of this book is fairly good in following the book, but stops short of what really explains his life. As is proverbially the case, the book was better than the film.

  1. The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough

The first book written by the Pulitzer Prize author that is as gripping as any he wrote. Forgive the triteness of saying this was better than fiction, but it was. Drama, intensity, tension—this volume had it all. Since it was history, you knew as you read that the dam would break and agonized over the choices made by some. Then the description of the flood itself was as exceptional writing as I have ever seen. They call his writing style the “documentary method.” Whatever it is, it will stay in your memory a long time. A masterpiece!

  1. 1776 by David McCullough

In an interesting book idea, McCullough takes our history of one year (1776), but the one year that we teetered to the point that it could have easily gone either way. George Washington rises to the top as the man, who despite modern critics, is every bit the hero some of us think he is. Defeat and failure do not crush where they so easily could have. The Battle of Brooklyn, the escape that should not have worked, the Christmas surprise, all changed our formally disappointing prospects. More than a Washington biography, other generals, like Greene and Knox, prove their mettle. Here is a real page turner!

  1. The Greater Journey by McCullough

This volume has not garnered the praise that some of his others have, but that is only because the subject was not quite as thrilling. The writing itself is still of the highest standards. It seems to me that in his John Adams biography he became fascinated with the French influence of our earlier history. That influence is as dramatic as he came to believe and explains more about American history than most imagine. It connects the dots of the country we came to be. Perhaps it does not end on a dramatic high, but it is a pleasurable read.

Happy Reading!

In The Steps Of The Master–A Great Resource!

Are you fascinated by the times of the Gospels? I always have been and love any help I can get to understanding the time and places involved in Christ’s earthly ministry. Here is a tool I want to recommend to every Bible student. This volume brings out its title of “In The Master’s Steps: The Gospels In The Land” in a helpful way.

This is partially taken from the larger, comprehensive work entitled “The Sacred Bridge”, which as a pastor I find a fascinating work. Carta, in my judgment, is the premier atlas maker of our day. Though this is aimed to a wider audience, it is in no way a piece of fluff. You can gain great knowledge in this volume. 

The text relays much information (I disagree on a few points). The pictures are attractive and helpful. The maps, though, are simply incredible. Make sure you notice a few of my favorites: the 3-D map of the Sea of Galilee with all the respective events involving Christ (pg. 33), the maps of Jericho (pg. 57), and numerous physical maps of the land.

Since this volume is an attempt to reach out to a wider audience than Carta’s usual audience of scholars and pastors, I decided to put it to the test. I asked my 15-year-old son to go to my office alone and spend time in this book and tell me what he thought. After he spent a good bit of time perusing it, he let me know he loved it and found it so interesting. That is, to my mind, the ultimate passing of the test of what this volume set out to do. I think you will love it too.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255. 

Related article:

Bible Atlas

  

Job by Cyril Barber

Cyril Barber gives us a fine volume on Job aimed at laypeople, but quite pleasing to pastors. I will never understand why volumes by this fine writer aren’t more well known. He shows such an outstanding, broad reading behind what he writes.

He gives great insight into Job, his times, his family situation, his wife, and his physical ailments. Discussion of Satan at work is equally enlightening. The discussion of the three friends and the psychological impact on Job is explained in a way that opens up the text.

Along the way there is helpful discussion on the theology of suffering, which is one of the keys of the book. He gives Elihu’s comments good perspective too at the end. The length is ideal for what this volume purports to be.

While this will can not take the place of an exegetical commentary, read this volume after studying such commentaries and you will be greatly enriched.

This volume may not be as good or as in-depth as his volumes on First and Second Kings, but it is still quite helpful. I recommend it and all the Cyril Barber volumes published by Wipf & Stock.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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I Can’t Believe I’m 45!

I really can’t. That is only old in comparison to your own age–some seniors might think I am still a kid. Other young ones might think it is pretty much over for me. In my mind I don’t feel old, but the other day at a thrift store the cashier asked me if I wanted the senior discount. I tried to console myself that she was either senile or blind. When I thought about how she was holding down a job and didn’t wear glasses I decided to think of something else.

While visiting my parents last week, I looked at a lot of pictures. To look at them and then walk by a mirror was a jolt. Then for a Facebook birthday card my daughter Briley did a 4-picture collage with current pictures of me and one where I was holding her as a baby. All I can say is I am glad that I am preacher and my hobbies are reading and blogging and such things. Can you imagine my diminishing prospects if I were a movie star? Besides feeling a little sorry for my wife Alicia, I think, though, that I won’t lose too much sleep over this part of being 45.

I used to play a game. When I was 20, I would say to myself that I was half way to 40. Now…I don’t want to play that game anymore. On a more serious note, I have had four relatives die when they were 45. My mother, Patricia Reagan, is the oldest of 5 children and she lost her brother when he was 45, then a few years later, her sister died at 45. It is hard for me to believe I am now the age that they were. Then there was a cousin and his wife on my Dad’s side who died at 45. I have been reminding myself that I am a Christian and I am not superstitious.

But there is value in the thoughts that accompany accumulating birthdays. I actually enjoyed reading every birthday wish on Facebook, and the day being about me–two great bookstores as we drove back from Tennessee. More than that, I am thankful to have lived this long, to have been a husband, father, and pastor, and to know the growing joys of being God’s child. I have watched my children all get saved and even had the distinct pleasure of baptizing each of them.

45 even has value over 1-44. You might say that I better watch out for a mid-life crisis, but I really believe my beloved Alicia’s paralysis already provided that for me. I felt like a deck of cards in a card sharks hands getting shuffled all around. That is how it felt, but of course, I was always in the loving hands of my Heavenly Father who loved me too much not to do surgery on many ugly things in my heart. I imagine there is more that needs done, but I don’t want to think of that today either.

Age brings some wisdom. Warped thinking gets exposed when the years stretch a little for perspective. I don’t think the same about myself or my life as I once did. Before I was more infected with the common but misplaced thinking that life was a quest to be great; that success was reaching pinnacles, being noticed, shining a little more than those around me, or gathering at least some measure of fame.

I have had the tiniest little experience with it. My blog, so inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, made me more well known than before. I have had plenty of strangers write me or come up to meet me. While I might enjoy it, the little bit of popularity has not made me a better person. I love to help others, and that is worthwhile, but the enlarged presence does nothing for your soul. Then, there is my wife whose disability, and our tagging along in her adventures, really puts us out there. Finally, my children (I love them so much) are gifted musically. People love to hear them and so do I. [I pray I can teach them that having musical talent does not make them one iota better than others who hit a sour note every time they try]. Isn’t it funny that two of the things I mentioned aren’t really about me? The first one that is me would not be so had not one of the main series on my blog been controversial in some circles. Such is fame–fickle, fleeting, and faulty.

Does any of that bother me? Not at all! I have learned what Psalm 75:6 means: “For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.” That is to say that God chooses. Why is God not unfair when He promotes one and not another? Because it is not the point of life. It makes no difference. It is not a reward for the value of your life’s work. It is put together by a plan that is for God’s designs. Your privilege is to get to be involved in His purposes, whatever they may be. I pity those who strain and manipulate to rustle fame. Even if you get it, that is but to get to the end of the rainbow and find a leprechaun snickering at you who turns out to be Lucifer himself.

The real success in life is in what God has put right in front of you. The best work cannot be quantified and rewarded. To invest in our children or those we minister to will bring no accolades today, but carry real value. I accomplish more if I go the extra mile in sermon preparation till I really discover what God is saying and lay aside the clever things I am thinking. The audience will never know, but my Lord will. There are plenty of other examples, but I believe you can finish this paragraph as well as I can.

So for all the talk out there about doing something big in the ministry, I am no longer interested. That can too quickly disintegrate into making a name for myself using God’s name in a Madison Avenue-type approach. My goal for how ever many years I get past 45 is to be big in His plans. Big or small, it is about Him. That fills all the self-worth needs I could ever have as I fully believe that life is only about that day my time is over here and I finally look upon His face.

So I really am not worried about being 45. Whether I see 105, or never see 46, I have today to be a willing participant in the eternal saga of His Kindgom. Far from being just satisfied with that thought, I say what could possibly be better?

7 Men by Eric Metaxas

Here is a biographic volume consisting of seven vignettes. The subtitle of “And the secret of their greatness” hints at what author Eric Metaxes is up to. Never was an introduction more indispensable than here where we learn that he is not attempting to give an authoritative biographic word, but to examine the questions: 1) What is a man? and b) What makes a man great?

This is not profound biography. There is likely very little new here beyond what you might read in a longer biography, but his wrestling with real manhood is more of a success. At times, he rambles about his own personal thoughts or reminiscences of the subject at hand, but it all flows well. Though he has written some well-received biographies, this volume appears to be put together more in haste.

Still, it is enjoyable reading and goes fast. I left it wanting to read a fuller length biography of at least two of his 7 men. The addition of the chapter on Corrie Ten Boom was nice too.

There is a pretty good tracing of Christianity in each life and some good insights. Some of us would question Pope John Paul II being included and offered as if on the same level of Christianity as the others, but even that chapter told all I might ever want to know of him in an interesting way.

These books of collated mini-biographies can be a nice change up in our reading schedule and can suggest future reading. For what it is, it is well done.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

  



Madison’s Gift by David O. Stewart

Here is a brilliantly executed volume on one of our most underrated Presidents, James Madison. Madison was a man little of physical stature, one that stood in the shadows of Washington and Jefferson, but who did more heavy lifting on what our Constitution actually says than anyone. A diligent student and a tireless worker, Madison earned the label “Father of the Constitution.”

 

Instead of a cradle-to-grave standard biography, Mr. Stewart gives us his life through the lens of the five key relationships of his life. In that every life is probably partially defined by our five closest relationships, this volume succeeds in bringing Madison alive. 

 

His relationship with Washington was interesting in that he would have been considered Washington’s protege, but that relationship changed as Washington focused on holding the Union together while Madison increasingly focused on the political party he helped form. The writing here is so good you find yourself sad that the relationship was what it was by Washington’s death.

 

With Alexander Hamilton, you are shocked again as you read of their close association, common goals, and joint writing of The Federalist Papers giving way to being key leaders of rival parties.

 

Jefferson and Madison were soul mates and of equal intellectual powers. You will read of the unwavering friendship where Madison always gladly deferred to Jefferson.

 

The most shocking aspect of his relationship with James Monroe is how often they had a falling out only to be great friends again.

 

With Dolley, he found the perfect wife for what he did with his life. Though he married late, you will see how well she complemented his work.

 

I thought this approach to Madison would be a chronological nightmare for the reader, but Mr. Stewart’s writing washed that fear away.  I feel I know a lot more about what made Madison tick and must rate this volume a winner!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.  

 

Be looking for a post on presidential biographies coming soon.

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