Christmas Uncut–Book Review

The subtitle of this book by Carl Laferton and published by The Good Book Company nicely explains what we are getting: “What really happened and why it matters….” It’s a book for our families and might be used as well for those not familiar with Christianity.

The focusing on what really happened is helpful. He relates how our knowledge of the Christmas story comes more from Nativity Pageants than the Bible. I’ve always been amazed at the facts that are commonly wrong. Here the details are given, the misunderstandings addressed, and all given in a way anyone can comprehend.

He writes to hold attention with timely and helpful illustrations, again with younger folks in mind. For example, he brings the shepherds to life. He takes the highly romanticized view of them back to reality. He shows they are as looked down on as one of the lowest professions. You might think differently the next time you sing about shepherds watching their flocks by night!

The better part is why it is important. It’s more than a good story. It’s about a Savior. The manager is only important as it relates to a cross. The book ends answering questions younger folks, or even non-Christians, might ask. I pray this helps turn folks to Christ. It may because of the warm feelings Christmas stirs in many. This book is worth having and passing along.

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 . 

Books On How To Study The Bible

Since I just finished teaching a class on “How To Study The Bible” that I found personally rewarding, I’d like to share about the books I consulted on this important topic. Collectively, Christians seem to be ever sliding backward on personal Bible study. We are starting to reap a disaster in Christianity as Christians know little of what the Bible says. Whether the preacher in the pulpit, the teacher in the classroom, or the Christian at home, we need help.

Here are the books that I found most helpful:

1. Interpreting The Bible by A. Berkeley Mickelsen

The best all-round volume that covers all the bases well. It’s scholarly, yet the reasoning can be easily followed. It’s especially helpful on specialized topics like parables and figures of speech. Begins with a good section on the history of interpretation. If I could only have one volume on the subject, this would be it.

2. Basic Bible Interpretation by Roy Zuck

More focused and to the point than many, yet it contains sufficient depth. Dr. Tim Jayne, who has taught the Bible for many years, actually gave this book when he was telling me that it was most effective for students to his mind. Mr. Zuck is a solid teacher from Dallas Theological Seminary. Although he finds dispensationalism in every shadow, I highly recommend this title for the real help it gives. (Logos is now offering this title here)

3. Principles of Expository Preaching by Merrill Unger

The title is misleading in that this book is not about preaching, but Bible interpretation. In that good preaching springs from right interpretation, this book will help any Bible student. A worthy addition to your library.

4. Understanding and Applying The Bible by Robert McQuilkin

A popular, helpful tool for the Bible student trying to gain principles to study the Bible. A different approach from Mickelsen, Zuck, and Unger, but he sheds real light.

5. Biblical Interpretation by W. Randolph Tate

A volume well respected in the scholarly world and helpful to we Bible students. A little deeper than the aforementioned titles, but I’d grab a copy if I could.

6. Bible Explorers Guide by John Phillips

This well-beloved Bible teacher has really given us a worthwhile volume. Pitched at the S.S. teacher/layman level, it really brings concepts alive that some of the more scholarly volumes just can’t give us–at least not as passionately. Not the last word on the subject, but I would hate to be without it!

7. Not Like Any Other Book by Peter Masters

Not as well known as other volumes on the subject, but a timely expose on ridiculous ideas that have infested Biblical scholarship and renders them unable to grasp the riches of God’s Word. I love this book!

Other Volumes

You might grab: Biblical Hermeneutics by Terry (old, large, and mined by later writers), Hermeneutics by Virkler (old, but shorter), Protestant Biblical Interpretation (influential, but not as helpful as some to a Bible student), and Toward An Exegetical Theology by Walter Kaiser (Popular and helpful).

Books to encourage doing Bible study: How To Master The English Bible by James Gray, Methods of Bible Study by W. H. Griffith-Thomas, and How To Study The Bible by R. A Torrey. J. Vernon McGee, I.M. Haldeman, and Arthur Pink have written on this as well.

Books more geared toward personal Bible study: Independent Bible Study by Irving Jensen (Inductive Method), How To Study The Bible by Braga, Dynamic Personal Bible Study by Cyril Barber, How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth by Fee and Stuart, How To Study The Bible For Yourself by Lahaye, Creative Bible Study by Richards, How To Understand Your Bible by Alan Stibbs, The Joy of Discovery by Oletta Wald, How To Enjoy Studying The Bible by Joseph Gettys, Principles of Bible Hermeneutics by Haritt (fine, but lacks perspective), Methodical Bible Study by Traina, Knowing the Scriptures by A.T. Pierson (unique), Enjoy  Your Bible and Simply Understanding The Bible both by Irving Jensen, Understanding the Bible by John Stott, Interpreting God’s Word Today by Kistemaker, and How To Get the Most From God’s Word by John MacArthur all might prove helpful.

Happy studying!

Here’s something similar on Bible Atlas books. Just click:

Bible Atlas

If I Were God

Ever have the thought cross your mind “If I were God…”? Did you think “Here’s what I would do…”? I’ll do it because it should be done! You know what I speak of. Some person does some despicable thing and his life seems undisturbed. Someone else having done comparatively little or nothing seems to have a truck load of trouble dump on them.

Why do those who legalize abortion get away with it? Why do those who abuse or molest children get to go on their merry little way? And on and on we go.

The Bible addresses this subject on a few occasions, but this just recently jumped off the page at me. 1 Timothy 5:23-24 says:

Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after. Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid.

There’s a great explanation for us. The Lord tells us to expect that some men’s sin blow up in their faces almost immediately while others may never in their lives face many obvious results. They do experience consequences, just not those dramatic, out-in-the-open ones that we so love to see. I mean some Nazi tormentors were brought to justice in 1945 while others are dying of old age with new identities in beautiful locales around the globe. How haunted they have lived, however, or how much time they spend jumping at every shadow, we have no clue.

Some of us have our sins knock us over before we leave the scene of the crime while others spend their lives being chased by their sins. The lesson is the same: sin is devastating and we must run to Jesus Christ.

You may be glad to have Christ’s forgiveness, but have something stuck in your craw about some who are “getting away with it.” What we are really questioning is the justice of God. Does He hand out unfair judgments in His world? In our more sane moments we know our God is just and even explains that He will not “be mocked” (Galatians 6:7).

So our two issues really are:

1. Appearances—The Lord is not making the judgment as apparent as we would like.

2. Timing—The Lord is not acting as quickly as we would like.

Besides the issue of it just being all about our likes and dislikes, we forget that the Lord lives in eternity while we live in time. Yes, my life is passing, but His is not. I may have occasion to get in a hurry as I may run out of time, but He never has reason to get in a rush. The problem is that I view the finish line as my time here while He has time until His Kingdom is brought to completion.

Verse 25 tells me more. The positive side is true as well. Some have their good honored here while others die unsung. Remember no martyr ever gets to read the glowing accounts of his or her sacrifice. Sometimes in life little recognition comes while others receive multiple accolades.

The Lord will catch all of that up, too. Remember He has eternity to work in. All accounts will be settled and not one shred of injustice will survive eternity.


I originally wrote this for Partners For The Gospel.

You Had Better Not Read This Book!

I thought that would get your attention. But in truth, you might not be able to handle this volume called “Accidental Pharisees” by Larry Osborne and published by Zondervan. I say this not because it isn’t good, but because it is so good! It tackles many preconceived notions with, of all things, what the Bible actually said. Novel approach? Well, you might not like it when you realize you have believed something yourself that the Bible doesn’t say.

I’ve reviewed several books at this point, yet I barely know what to say. There is so much challenge here, so much to consider, so much to answer for. By the way, don’t assume that you know what he is going to say since he speaks of Pharisees. It’s not just an attack on legalism as you expect, but an expose of the Pharisee that lurks somewhere down inside us all.

I loved every chapter, except when I hated it because it seemed to me that he pegged me exactly. You may seem filleted, but then again, it will be refreshing as you can’t help but believe that it is exactly what Christ would want you to think. I can only hit a few highlights though deep insights fly off of every page.

He describes Pharisaism as an overzealous faith. It’s a faith with a good beginning, as were the Pharisee’s dedication, that somewhere goes awry. He shows the depths of our dark hearts in our desire to make Christianity more exclusive, or with the bar raised ever higher, to lift ourselves up. He calls it “thinning the herd”, and shows how that becomes bigger to us than the mission Christ actually gave us. Putting litmus tests to distinguish the inferior Christians from me is part of it too. This is all part and parcel of being a Pharisee and Jesus fought it at every turn. If He didn’t like it then, He doesn’t like it in me.

He shows how extra rules are used to distinguish Christians even farther. Not clear Bible commands, but extra rules to make us even better is what he speaks of. Something could make us better than what God said? It all really is absurd. The worst of it is that it throws mercy along the wayside–you know, that mercy that so defines our God!

I love how He discusses what Jesus actually said. He attacks head on our stated interpretations that can actually run contrary to what was actually said. This is, to my mind, the most challenging part of the book. Do we derive our beliefs from  Scriptures themselves, or spotty interpretation from the past? If our goal is to follow God’s Word, this should in no way make us afraid. Watch him look freshly at the Early Church in Acts.

Then he explains how we’ve high jacked the Biblical admonition of unity and replaced with the much inferior uniformity. Uniformity kills unity. It’s this idea that unity must be based on thinking exactly like me. That doesn’t exactly sound like unity, does it? Then he shames us for taking this uniformity to the extreme of picking our own favorite teacher or demonination as the standard. That leaves no place for the Lord and His Word, does it? Ouch.

Finally he talks about gift projection. That’s where I make my gift the essential one and judge every Christian on that one criteria. He’s right–that’s wrong and it makes no sense to do it.

The book isn’t perfect. You will not agree with every detail. You likely will be mad here and there. At times when he tells us to be easier on struggling Christians, he could almost sound like great dedication isn’t important. I’m sure that is not what he meant, but he waxes eloquent at times. Still, he provokes thought, real thought down avenues you might never have thought of before. What more could a book give us?

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 . 

WHERE WE ARE–American Christianity in Light of the 2012 Election

Christians, it’s time we process the election results we just watched unfold. I’ve listened to so many friends and even commentary online. I’ve heard so much sadness and despair, but what does it really mean? I’ve heard some make apocalyptic statements like: “It’s over.” Is it? To answer your question, I need to know what “it” is.

Do you mean America? Well, this much is true–things are not going to be what we have known. There’s no use trying to spin that fact. Many Christian friends say that how could America be so blind. Whatever the problem is, it is not exactly blindness in the sense of not seeing what is really going on. Unlike 2008, the American people know exactly what Mr. Obama believes. They know about Obamacare, the faltering economy, the frantic spending, the acceptance of non-Christian social positions like gay marriage and abortion, and they are cool with it. At least a slight majority (what it takes in a democracy) know all about it and went and pulled that lever for Mr. Obama.

So the answer could not be in getting out more conservative commentary. In addition, more creativity in putting out the conservative message really has little chance in turning the tide back. Grassroots work probably can’t get it done either. If it could have, the Tea Party would have been more successful. Conservative political strategists didn’t really fail. What is going on can’t be strategized around in one election cycle.

Here are the 3 most crucial demographics that came out of the election results in my opinion:

1. Young adult voters went overwhelmingly for Mr. Obama. 

They know what Mr. Obama stands for and they agree with him. It’s just that simple. What the Republican Party ought to do about that, I have no idea. They will  have to figure it out. I’m not concerned about them (I am one of them, but as a Christian I put no expectations on any party to solve our problems). Perhaps, as Christians we could look a little deeper. WE HAVE FAILED. We have not reached that generation with the Gospel message. It has nothing to do with political parties, but had we made more disciples of Jesus Christ, there would be more pro-Christian sentiment and our nation would be more Christian.

2. Non-white voters make up a much higher percentage of voters now.

There is, of course, no problem with that. Voting percentages should naturally match population percentages. These other ethnic groups have traditionally been less known to follow conservative Christian principles. Again, I’m sure the Republican Party is scratching its head to figure out how to handle that going forward. Again, I’m sure they will try something, but what about the Christian perspective (which is unique from the Republican Party and what I care about). Could the tendency among many Christians who are willing to send a missionary to Africa but have no real concern for those of another ethnic group in their own town be coming back to haunt us? I mean really reach out and want others from different groups on equal footing in your own church?

3. A great divide exists between large cities and the rest of the country. 

Did you see the red/blue map of our country? I’m not going to get into the political reasons why that is the way it is, but there is one clear implication for Christians. We are not reaching the cities. Sometimes we do well in wealthy suburbs where there is plenty of money to build great buildings, but we do so little the closer to downtown we come. These people are poorer and we fail them. Remember, it was the poor who heard Jesus “gladly.” Did the government become their God because we didn’t go tell them of the True and Living God?

So we are going to a more European economy. Social norms far removed from the Bible are coming quickly beyond what we have now.The Supreme Court will surely go much more to the left soon.  It’s unlikely we’ll support Israel as we have. And it is likely our government will grow more antagonistic toward Christianity. Persecution is more than a pessimist’s blubbering now, but with history as our guide, we know it will come. I am not a prophet, so I don’t know how rapidly it will happen. Still, I imagine many of us will see it. This is our America.

Earlier I asked what was meant by those who say “It is over.” Maybe some meant America, and we can but hang on for the ride on that count. But I want to ask if the “it” is Christianity itself? That my friends is an entirely different matter.

What has history shown us? Hasn’t Christianity always thrived in painful times? Isn’t it a parable of our individual lives as we grow the most in the cauldron of suffering? For that matter, is that why we are so upset? Christianity hasn’t been thriving in America for these long years of prosperity, but we have been living good. Is the light of God’s Word dimming a problem because it assaults the glory of God ? Or because it will hamper the easy life I’ve grown accustomed to? Are my  plans being crushed the real problem for me? I mean I’m planning this nice retirement and I don’t want the government to take it. I wouldn’t either, but is the issue the plan of my God in this world? His Gospel going? His Kingdom marching on? Is my comfort level really an issue in the big picture? We are upset! Maybe we should examine the main reasons we are upset. Are you willing to be happy in a collapsed economy if it advances God’s will? Are you willing to go to an underground church if necessary? Are you willing to witness if deadly consequences follow it? We are asking questions about America today. Perhaps it is time we ask ourselves some serious questions as well.

Practical Advice

1. Go on.

Press on serving God. Our economy may collapse, but our faith need not. Our lives are racing to standing before God. I will not answer for this country I love, just what I did in it. Particularly, I’ll answer for what I did for Him.

2. Change the Paradigm.

We must go after the younger adults whether we understand them or not. In fact, we’d better try to understand them. We better go after the people who don’t look like us and tell them of the Christ Who loves them as much as us. We must go in the cities that don’t match our taste. We have eternity for comfort. Now the work is before us!

I don’t know all the details of America’s future. I don’t how soon being a Christian will be costly. I don’t know if America will turn back to God in a great revival (which is possible!). I just know that Christianity, the real thing that is, will be just fine. No amount of hard days ahead will change it. That is, then, the state of American Christianity.


Headline For Tomorrow Morning After The Election

Let the Reagan Review get the scoop on news media and give you a headline for tomorrow morning right now. Many major newspapers probably have two ready but aren’t for sure which one they will be using late tonight. We are ready here at the Reagan Review! Here it is:

Christ Is Still Seated On The Throne On The Universe

My friends that is true everyday, but really has a bearing on this election. I would go so far as to say it is the most key fact of all.

I know you thought I would announce Romney or Obama. On Facebook I predicted Romney would win based on what I imagined would happen after watching politics all my life. Of course, I may miss it by a mile, but that is just a guess. I want to report hard fact, or real news, here.

Here’s a verse I studied for last Sunday and this season of all our lives.

Psalms 110:1 “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.”

If you are a Bible student, you know that we are privy here to a private conversation between the Father and Christ, Who is the King. No wonder this is the most-quoted Psalm in the NT as we are always subject to so much from those who rule over us in this world.

Do you notice that Christ the Lord sits on the throne? He sits because He is there to stay. He sits because He has already won. He sits because His work is finished. He sits because He is calm. He sits because His enemies are so powerless against Him. He sits because His throne is eternal, stable, and victorious!

In fact, while we quiver in fear at world events Psalm 2:1-5 paints a far different scene in Heaven. “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh” when these leaders in their vain imaginations suppose to have the world in their control.

It’s true that enemies to Christ still exist and that world leaders violently oppose His ways, but He still sits on that throne. His plan is on schedule. The election won’t change it one iota either.

I used to put more stock in politics than I now do. When I was a 10-year-old boy Ronald Reagan was running for President, and since I am Jimmy Reagan, my choice was easy. (By that same logic I picked Jimmy Carter when I was 6). I also became a Christian in that year. Within a few years I was an avid supporter of President Reagan as his platform matched my Christian beliefs very well. I also loved the man, still think he was sincere, and a real believer in Christ. I probably have 10 or more biographies of him and fought back tears when I watched his funeral on TV.

But here’s the truth. For all the good he did, he couldn’t do so much of what I, or I think even himself, would have wanted done. My friends, if Ronald Reagan couldn’t stop abortion, no other President can. That is the cold, hard facts. The answer, as so many have said, is truly not in politics.

Don’t take me wrong. I’ll vote today. I really think you should too. I’ll probably stay up far too late watching the election returns. I’ll even be bummed if the results don’t go my way. But my hope is not in this election. Even if the election goes completely my way, the trouble my beloved country is in won’t simply float away.

Even if it goes the wrong way, my real King, the One to Whom I’ve sworn the ultimate allegiance, will be in full control. My King won’t worry at all about the election. He won’t call a special meeting of the Godhead to asses the situation. No, His Kingdom will just keep marching on.

I do wish, however, that my country could see Who is really in control and humbly turn to Him. I wish they could see that He has woven the law of sowing and reaping into His Universe and there is no way around it. I wish my country could see that He allows us to make choices, but He does not let us define consequences.

But whatever happens in beloved country today, my real King is still in control. You can take that to the bank and can write it in ink right now:

Christ Is Still Seated On The Throne On The Universe

(This is the third entry for this election season. The first 2 are:

It Is An Evil Time 

The Two Biggest, Seldom-Mention Issues Of the Election )

The Two Biggest, Seldom-Mentioned Issues Of The Presidential Election

The time is near. I’ve watched some of the debates just like you and issues are flying all around. The economy gets the most press, and of course, it is a mess. If you are a Christian like me, would you call the economy the biggest issue? Not me. Ridiculous economic issues usually carry economic consequences, and though I wouldn’t like them any better than you, they only affect the quality of life and not life itself.

I bet you guess since I am Christian that I will say abortion. Though that is a monumental issue, and I can imagine the blood of those precious souls crying out to a God listening very carefully, if you understand the setup of our government, you realize how little influence a President really has on that issue. I assure if a President could stop abortion, Ronald Reagan would have done it in the 1980s.

The first issue for me is our relationship with Israel. A few Christians talk about it as an afterthought when they have made every zinger they can about the economy. I see this as bigger than the economy and the consequences are far beyond the quality of life. History has shown that when the Lord said of Israel that “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them who curse thee” that He really meant it. That is one issue that we don’t want to be on the wrong side of as a country.

Iran getting a nuclear weapon, a weapon controlled by hate-filled lunatics, may very well be the biggest threat Israel has ever known. While I know that the Lord can protect Israel without our help, how could we possibly “curse” her more than failing her at the crisis hour? That describes an enemy far more than a friend, I’d say. We have enjoyed blessings more than we could ever calculate for our friendship. Without the Lord’s blessing, the best economic policies in the world won’t stop our quick and thorough decline.

The other big issue, to my mind, is religious freedom. I say that particularly to my fellow Christians. Religious freedom is pretty strong for others, but for us it is in jeopardy. The only banned words I have heard so far in public prayers opening Congress or other such things are “in Jesus’ name.” Policies to stop Christian pulpits from speaking the Biblical position on issues like gay marriage are being pushed while the government seeks ways to violate our Constitution to honor Sharia Law. If you are a Christian who says you will follow Christ no matter what happens, what could be bigger than that? Real persecution could come our way as it has so many times in other places!

I agree we have some of the most absurd economic policies in our nation’s history, but let’s pray, vote, and speak up where the silence is deafening, on what are really the two biggest issues of our upcoming presidential election.