The Return Of Sherlock Holmes (book review)

I don’t read very many fiction books, but I am a huge fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes! I just finished listening to a wonderful collection of short adventures from the book The Return Of Sherlock Holmes. The audiobook I listened to was expertly narrated by Stephen Thorne.

Without being as wordy as some authors, Doyle paints such descriptive pictures of Dr. Watson, Holmes, his clients, his villains, and the crime scenes. I can “see” exactly how the characters look and “hear” how they talk, and can feel the emotions they are feeling. And the crime scenes are also painted in such vivid detail by Doyle, that I can catch all of the same details the Sherlock Holmes is taking in.

I cannot stand how some detective story authors “uncover” some hidden details at the very end that magically helps their protagonist solve the crime. The “magic” of Sherlock Holmes’ solutions is that Doyle allowed you to see everything Holmes saw. The real art is in the way Holmes uses his gift of deductive reasoning to solve the clues.

These mysteries are not always crimes. Often times they are simply perplexing problems. I’ve never been called upon to solve a crime before, but I certainly am called upon to find solutions to thorny problems. In that regard, I owe a debt to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for helping me learn from Sherlock Holmes how to deduce the most logical solution to my mysterious situations.

These are also great stories to read aloud, especially to your kids.

History Matters

The minor prophets cover a span of about 300 years, from 760-450 BC, and Jonah appears right in the middle of that. Jonah overlaps Amos and Hosea in northern Israel, and he finishes his ministry just before Isaiah’s ministry begins in southern Judah. 

Jonah is the only narrative in the minor prophets. He was a prophet during the reign of Jeroboam II when Israel was temporarily growing in strength. He is the first of Israel’s prophets to be sent to a non-Jewish population. 

Critics have raised questions about this book. Questions like: Did Jonah write this book himself or is it just a story about him? Is this book historical or allegorical? 

The five biggest objections that are raised to Jonah’s historicity are: 

  1. The hyper-nationalistic feel is more like when Ezra and Nehemiah led people back to Jerusalem after their captivity in Babylon, and not during the time of Jeroboam II. 
  2. Parts of Jonah appear copied from the prophet Joel. 
  3. There are no (or incorrect) details about the major city of Nineveh that Jonah visited. 
  4. There are no extra-biblical historical records of a revival in Nineveh. 
  5. Jonah was swallowed by a fish?! 

I think there are very good reasons to believe that Jonah was both autobiographical and historically accurate. 

First, there was a revival of sorts (although not religiously) in Israel during the time of Jeroboam II. This was a time that Israel felt like it could flex its muscles again, so Jonah would not be acting out of character to be so pro-Israel. 

Second, Jonah 3:9 and Joel 2:14 sound similar, but scholars cannot tell which was written first. Couldn’t God amplify a message? Consider how many parts of the Gospel of Mark are used in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. And it’s a regular practice for authors even today to directly quote other sources. 

Third, regarding the lack of details about Nineveh, the biblical writers give very few details of any places outside of Israel or Judah. The only “incorrect” detail skeptics point to is Jonah 3:3 stating that the city was so big that it would take three days to walk around it. Nineveh was a city of about 120,000 inhabitants, so it could easily take three days of walking and preaching in order to get the message to everyone. 

Fourth, the revival in Nineveh was clearly short-lived. Jonah was probably in Nineveh around 760 BC. Assyria was rising politically and militarily during that time and defeated Israel just 40 years after Jonah’s preaching. Assyria itself was then defeated in 605 BC. 

Finally, Jonah was swallowed by a fish?! The root word for fish in Hebrew means something that has grown to such an enormous size that it overshadows everything else. But notice that what caused the sailors to be in awe of God was not the whale/fish swallowing Jonah, but the immediate calming of the ocean when Jonah was thrown overboard (Jonah 1:15-16). Miracles appear throughout this book. And throughout the entire Bible! 

Why should the appearance of miracles surprise us? Some people have a bias against the supernatural, where they wrongly believe that we can know everything through naturalistic means. C.S. Lewis pointed out, “I use the word Miracle to mean an interference with Nature by supernatural power. … Nature as a whole is herself one huge result of the Supernatural: God created her.” 

I don’t think this story is a parable or an allegory because nowhere else in the Bible are such details given in the form of a parable. 

I believe this story is historical because Jesus talked about the historicity of Jonah in the same breath as He talked about other historical people: the Queen of the South and Solomon (Matthew 12:38-42). Jesus clearly viewed Jonah as historically reliable and accurate. To call Jonah into question is to call into question the truthfulness of Jesus Himself! 

History matters because all of History is God’s story! 

Our belief in the message of the Bible is not based upon “once upon a time” or “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” It’s based upon real people in real places, especially the historicity of Jesus (notice all of the historical details Luke lists in the birth account of Jesus). 

Jonah was clearly one of those historical people, in an historic place, and at a precise moment in world history that tells the story of Jesus and our redemption which He purchased! 

If you want to check out all of the messages in our series on the major lessons from the minor prophets, you can find that list by clicking here.

Poetry Saturday—An Exercise For The Mind Of Christ

The mind—ah!, what a precious gift!
But what a task each day to sift
from every thought just those that lift
and raise us to God’s glory.

But take from Paul each day one phrase,
and seek just one of many ways
which someone dear its truth displays,
and note it, to God’s glory.

Then, when the day at last is through,
share what this person means to you,
how in this one this phrase is true,
for God’s delight and glory.

The mind is precious, but untrained
unless its ways are all constrained
to serve the Lord. Thus shall be gained
for us, eternal glory! —T.M. Moore, inspired by Philippians 4:8

Think On This…

Here’s the seed thought for this episode of Think On This

My t-shirt from To Write Love On Her Arms that says, “You make today better.”

Think on this: Am I being intentional about making other people’s today better? Am I expressing my gratitude to those who are making my today better?

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Light In A Dark Cave

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Light In A Dark Cave

     Now I must have an illustration. I must compare truth to some cave or grotto that you have heard of, with wondrous stalactites hanging from the roof and others starting from the floor—a cavern, glittering with spar and abounding in marvels. Before entering the cave you inquire for a guide, who comes with his lighted flambeau. He conducts you down a considerable depth and you find yourself in the midst of the cave. He leads you through different chambers. Here he points to a little stream rushing from amid the rocks and indicates its rise and progress. There he points to some peculiar rock and tells you its name. Then he takes you into a large natural hall, tells you how many persons once feasted in it, and so on. Truth is a grand series of caverns. It is our glory to have so great and wise a Conductor. Imagine that we are coming to the darkness of it. He is a light shining in the midst of us to guide us. And by the light He shows us wondrous things. In three ways the Holy Spirit teaches us—by suggestion, direction, and illumination. 

     First, He guides us into all truth by suggestion. There are thoughts that dwell in our minds that were not born there but that were exotics brought from heaven and put there by the Spirit. It is not a fancy that angels whisper into our ears and that devils do the same. Both good and evil spirits hold converse with men. …  

     Sometimes He leads us by direction. … The Spirit gives a direction and tendency to our thoughts. Not suggesting a new one but leading a particular thought, when it starts, to take such and such a direction. …  

     Perhaps the best way in which the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth is by illumination. … Beloved, you may read to all eternity and never learn anything by it, unless the Holy Spirit illuminates it. And then the words shine forth like stars. … Blind men may read the Bible with their fingers, but blind souls cannot. We want a light to read the Bible by; there is no reading it in the dark. Thus the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth by suggesting ideas, by directing our thoughts, and by illuminating the Scriptures when we read them. 

From The Holy Spirit: The Great Teacher 

A good prayer every time you open your Bible is this: “Open my eyes to see wonderful things in Your Word” (Psalm 119:18). 

The illumination of the Holy Spirit helps us connect the written Word to our real-life, every-day settings. 

When times are confusing, the Holy Spirit can illuminate the Scriptures to help us evaluate both our feelings and the facts around us through the filter of God’s truth. 

But perhaps most importantly, the Holy Spirit helps us take captive all of those thoughts. Whether they were whispered by angels or devils, or just thought from our own carnal minds, we can take all of those thought captive and make them obedient to God’s Word (see 2 Corinthians 10:3-5). We need to learn to think about what we’re thinking about, utilizing the truth of Scripture that the Holy Spirit will illuminate to us.

 

Major Lessons From Minor Prophets (continued)

Sometimes the naming of things gives us an inaccurate picture of the thing being named. For instance, many people think the “old” in Old Testament means outdated or perhaps updated by the “new” in the New Testament. When in fact, both Testaments are needed to give us the full picture of God’s love and glory. 

A similar thing happens with the headings “major prophets” and “minor prophets.” It makes it sound like the major prophets have something major to say to us, while we could take or leave the minor messages of the minor prophets. 

In reality, they were given these headings simply because of the volume of writing—the five major prophets consist of 182 chapters, whereas the 12 minor prophets only have 67 chapters. The volume of their writing may be minor, but their content carries major messages of meteoric power! 

Join me this Sunday as we rejoin this highly informative series. You can check out the topics we covered last year by clicking here.

If you have missed any of the messages in this current session, check them out here:

The Attitude That Thwarts God’s Blessings

Two of Israel’s king Jehoahaz and his son Jehoash perpetually hung on to an attitude that limited what God wanted to do for Israel. That attitude can be summed up in a single word: but. 

Jehoahaz “sought the Lord’s favor” during a time Israel was under the oppression of their enemies, and “the Lord listen to him”! God raised up a deliverer who brought them freedom. Israel, under Jehoahaz’s leadership, could have used this newly won freedom to live closer to God and remain in a place of renewed worship. “But” they used their freedom as a license to sin and God reduced Jehoahaz’s army to a mere skeleton of what it had been (2 Kings 13:4-7). 

Jehoash went to visit Elisha. It doesn’t appear he went with a prayer request but merely to pay his respects to this dying prophet. God in His graciousness gave Jehoash something he didn’t even ask for: a promise of victory over Aram! Jehoash was invited to boldly ask for God’s help “but” he thought God had a limited supply and he asked for just a small portion. As a result, his victory over Aram was small—much smaller than God wanted for Israel (13:14-19). 

Once again, enemies surround Israel and we read a statement pregnant with possibility: “But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of His covenant” (13:22-23). Despite their sin, God still wanted to bless them! 

God wants so much more for us than we even want ourselves! But our sinfulness, stubbornness, and unbelief will limit the fullness of what God wants to do. 

Jesus fulfilled God’s covenant. If God did not spare His own Son, how can I ever continue to remain skeptical that He wants to bless me?! He is glorified when I am abundantly blessed in Him. What do I do with God’s gracious concern? Will I squander it and live hemmed in by oppressors? Or will I embrace everything God has for me in Jesus and live in a way that He delights to bless? 

My attitude will determine the blessing I receive. 

A Spiritual Clinic (book review)

Some of the most formative leadership books I read early in my leadership journey were written by J. Oswald Sanders. Books like Spiritual Maturity and Spiritual Leadership. It’s my desire to be a lifelong learner, and in that pursuit, I need an external, objective source to help keep me on track. Sanders’ book A Spiritual Clinic is just the check-up I needed! 

In the physical world, we may get a check-up from our primary care physician, a counseling session with a mental health professional, or perhaps a regular check-up with a spiritual advisor like a pastor or mentor. All of these are healthy if they are all grounded in the principles in God’s Word. 

Sanders brings us to his spiritual clinic for a well-rounded check-up of our spiritual leadership. He says, “[This book’s] thesis is that the complex strains and problems which the Christian worker encounters in the contemporary world find their answer, not in tranquilizers or stimulants, but in a correct understanding and application of scriptural principles, and effectiveness in Christian work is the natural outcome of conformity to spiritual laws enunciated in the Scriptures.” 

So “doctor” Sanders holds up the mirror of God’s Word to our activities to see how we are performing in light of God’s standards. He addresses topics like stress, learning, suffering, depression, spiritual ups-and-downs, and our conscience. He zeros-in on leadership topics like ambition, authority, discipleship, use of time, and understanding God’s calling. 

Each chapter is short but packed with so many principles that it should take you quite a while to evaluate and implement. This is time well spent! 

I am a Moody Publisher book reviewer. 

Knowing God’s Will

My dear friends Josh and Judy are moving. They feel like God has been calling them to Nebraska, and I affirm that God is directing them into this new chapter for their lives. I will miss them dearly, but I know God has indeed called them. 

During times like this many people will often ask, “How do I know that God is directing me?” 

In the Bible we see God speaking to people in several ways: 

  • An audible voice 
  • Through His prophets 
  • Sending an angel 
  • In a dream or vision 
  • One time God’s finger wrote a message on a wall
  • One time God spoke through a donkey 

But most often God speaks through the inner voice of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is a Person. He is described as having a mind, a will, and emotions. Although He doesn’t have a physical body, He is still a Person. Just like any person you could get to know, you can get to know the Holy Spirit more and more personally, becoming increasingly more acquainted with His voice. 

All of us are unique individuals. God has never, ever duplicated a person. Your combination of genes, talents, personality, and personal experiences make you a one-of-a-kind in all of human history. That means that God speaks uniquely to each of us. 

Even though the exact manner God will speak to us will be unique, there are some clear principles that we can know from the Bible. 

1. Humbly listen for God’s voice.

Solomon wrote, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Let me unpack three key phrases:

  • lean not on your own understanding really means humbly exchanging an “I know best” posture for a “God, You know best” posture. 
  • acknowledge Him is the Hebrew word yada. This word means knowledge that comes from personal experience. This is where you act on something you think the Holy Spirit is saying to you and then evaluate it. It’s how you get to know the Person of the Holy Spirit better and better. 
  • He will make straight your paths might be better stated, “He will make your paths agreeable to His will.” In other words, you begin to feel in-sync with the Holy Spirit. The opposite of this would be grieving the Holy Spirit, where you feel out-of-step with God. 

2. Consult with godly friends. 

In Acts 16, the apostle Paul and his companions are attempting to go into new territories to share the good news about Jesus but Luke records twice that the Holy Spirit wouldn’t allow them. Perhaps they felt out-of-sync with the Spirit when they attempted to make their plans. Ultimately, God did open a door for them to move forward and Luke writes, “Concluding that God had called us.” Notice that word “us.” Paul shared his heart with his godly friends and they affirmed God’s voice, much as I affirmed the call on Josh and Judy’s lives in their move. 

3. Don’t be overly concerned about making a mistake. 

In Romans 8, Paul reminds us that God is working all things together for your good and for His glory. “All things” means even your mistakes—like not noticing that the Spirit was prompting you to move, or perhaps temporarily heading down a wrong path. The Holy Spirit can help you look back and see how these experiences have prepared you for your present moment. Even those missteps can be used for God’s glory. But most importantly, those missteps have never diminished God’s love for you! 

Your journey will be unique from everyone else’s journey, but these three principles are applicable to everyone who wants to walk in the paths God has set for them. 

Poetry Saturday—A Lost Opportunity

It came and went so quickly,
   My sluggish soul saw not
The Master stand and beckoning
   Toward one of humble lot.

And I rose not up to follow,
   So slow was I to see,
Till the help I might have given
   Forever fled from me.

And often I am grieving,
   And longing all in vain,
For a blessed opportunity
   That will not come again.

Dear Lord, give Thine anointing,
   And make mine eyes to see;
And make me swift in doing
   The work Thou givest to me. —L. Adda Nichols

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