Book Reviews From 2019

Love Securely

Jesus is journeying toward the Cross. On Thursday, it’s His last opportunity to impart His most important thoughts to His disciples. He is about to be arrested, and everything is about to go sideways for the disciples—“this isn’t the way this is supposed to happen!”—and Jesus needs to prepare them with the truth they will need to sustain them through this. 

“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer,” Jesus says (Luke 22:15).  

So Peter and John are sent to make arrangements for the Passover meal, but one of the arrangements that they overlooked was the host duties—washing the feet of each guest, anointing them with perfume, and giving them a welcoming kiss. 

As they are eating dinner, Jesus makes four important statements:

  1. “One of you will betray Me”
  2. “All of you will abandon Me”
  3. “I will rise again and restore you”
  4. “I have prayed for you”

These statements get the disciples arguing about who’s going to betray Jesus—“It’s not me, is it?!”—and over how faithful they are—“I would never abandon Him!” Ultimately they begin to argue over who is the greatest disciple among them. 

Jesus not only explains to them how the servant is greater than the master in God’s sight (Luke 22:24-27), but He then becomes the living example of that when He washes their feet (John 13:1-5, 12-17). 

Here’s an important principle—Only secure people can lovingly serve others. 

Insecure people don’t like to serve others because they feel they are being misused, or taken advantage of, or that others will look down on them. 

Jesus “knew” (John 13:1, 3) how much power His Father had given Him, making Him secure enough to serve. Security really means, “I am loved by God, and I know who I am in Him.”

Jesus served out of love: the profound love that He knew His Father had for Him. He gave His disciples the same mandate: Serve others out of love for Me and show the world that you are My disciples (see John 13:34-35).

When Jesus ate this last supper with His disciples, He instituted a remembrance celebration that we now call Communion. The root word is “commune” which the dictionary defines as a “conversation with profound intensity and intimacy.” 

This is the type of intimate relationship Jesus had with His Father, and this is the type of relationship He calls us to with Him. The broken bread of Communion reminds us that Jesus can make whole any broken area that would keep us from communing with Him. The cup of Communion reminds us that Jesus can instantly and fully forgive any sin that would keep us from communing with Him. 

Jesus set the example—we are to commune with our Heavenly Father through the way He made by His broken body and His shed blood. It’s out of this communion that we are empowered by His love, and then feel secure enough to serve others in love too. 

Sabbathing

On the Wednesday of Christ’s Passion Week, all of the Gospel writers are in perfect agreement. Between all four of them, they write not one word about what happened on that day. That silence actually speaks volumes to us!  

Jesus is almost surely in Bethany (since that has become is nightly retreat this week), and He is taking a Sabbath rest. “Wait,” you might be saying, “sabbathing on Wednesday?! I thought that was supposed to be Saturday or Sunday?” 

The Sabbath is not a day; it’s an attitude of the heart. 

Jesus followed the example His Father set right at the beginning. 

The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between Me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed. (Exodus 31:16-17)

Notice that God rested and was refreshed. The word rested means to stop working and celebrate. It’s a time to reflect on the work completed and celebrate what has been done. Then the Bible says God was refreshed, which literally means “God refreshed Himself.” He took a deep, satisfying, rejuvenating breath! 

Resting and being refreshed—or sabbathing—is not a luxury; it’s a necessity! 

Jesus understood this principle of sabbathing. Remember that He had only a limited time to accomplish all that the Father had for Him: “We must work the works of Him Who sent Me and be busy with His business while it is daylight; night is coming on, when no man can work” (John 9:4 AMP). If anyone was a Man on a mission, it was Jesus, and yet rest was vital to Him…

  • …from the very beginning of His life, Jesus practiced healthy habits
  • …He started each day in prayer 
  • …He rested and refreshed after expending Himself in ministry, and encouraged His disciples to do so as well (see Luke 2:52; Mark 1:35; 6:30-32, 45-46) 

Now—just before the intense, horrific, inhumane experience He is about to go through—Jesus is sabbathing. He is resting and refreshing His body, soul, and spirit. 

So what keeps us from sabbathing? 

  1. Guilt—“I feel guilty taking time off.” Remember that is Jesus did it, we should too. 
  2. Misplaced priority—“If I don’t do it, it won’t get done.” But remember Who is in charge. The psalmist reminds us, “The Lord is king!” (Psalm 99:1). 
  3. Fear—“If I ‘tune out’ what might I be missing?” Remember: Your Father is watching over you every single moment (see Psalm 121).  

If you wanted to experience more productivity in your life, don’t try to go 24/7—take a sabbath break. Stop working and celebrate what God has done, then take a deep breath of worship in God’s presence. Jesus demonstrated that sabbathing was vital for ministry success. 

9 More Quotes From “Expository Thoughts On The Gospels”

Bishop J.C. Ryle wrote a commentary on the Gospels nearly 200 years ago, and it still stands as a phenomenal Bible study resource. Check out my full review by clicking here. 

“When do men make others stumble? … Professing Christians do it whenever they bring discredit on their religion by inconsistencies of temper, of word, or of deed. We do it whenever we make our Christianity unlovely in the eyes of the world by conduct not in keeping with our profession. The world may not understand the doctrines and principles of believers, but the world is very keen-sighted about their practice. … Men will judge by what they see far more than by what they hear.” 

“Every true-hearted Christian who tries to do good in the world must make up his mind to be treated like his Master. He must never be surprised to find that the self-righteous and the worldly-minded dislike His ways.” 

“We shall discover by experience that all is not gold that glitters, and all are not true Christians who make a loud profession of Christianity. The language of Christianity is precisely that part of religion which a false Christian finds it most easy to attain. The walk of a man’s daily life, and not the talk of his lips, is the only safe test of his character.” 

“It is not in reality an astonishing thing that there should rise up so many who call in question the truth of the Bible. The marvel is rather that in a fallen world the sect of the Sadducees should be so small.” 

“Here, if anywhere, we need the heart of a little child and the prayer ‘open my eyes’ (Psalm 119:18). Let us beware on the one side of that lazy indifference which turns away from all prophetical Scripture on account of its difficulties. Let us beware on the other side of that dogmatical and arrogant spirit which makes men forget that they are students, and talk as confidently as if they were prophets themselves.” 

“To suffer patiently for Christ is far more difficult than to work actively. To sit still and endure calmly is far more hard than to stir about and take part in a battle. Crusaders will always be found more numerous than martyrs.” 

“The true cure for a dull memory in religion is to get deeper love toward Christ, and affections more thoroughly set on things above. We do not readily forget the things we love, and the objects which we keep continually under our eyes. The names of our parents and children are always remembered. The face of the husband or wife we love is engraved on the tablets of our hearts. The more our affections are engaged in Christ’s service, the more easy shall we find it to remember Christ’s words.” 

“Let it be a settled principle in our minds, in reading the Bible, that Christ is the central sun of the whole Book. So long as we keep Him in view we shall never greatly err in our search for spiritual knowledge. Once losing sight of Christ, we shall find the whole Bible dark and full of difficulty. The key of Bible knowledge is Jesus Christ.” 

“He that desires to read his Bible with profit must first ask the Lord Jesus to open the eyes of his understanding by the Holy Spirit. Human commentaries are useful in their way. The help of good and learned men is not to be despised. But there is no commentary to be compared with the teaching of Christ. A humble and prayerful spirit will find a thousand things in the Bible which the proud, self-conceited student will utterly fail to discern.” 

You can also check out some other quotes that Bishop Ryle shared on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. 

Christ’s Passionate Journey

In some of our favorite action movies, when the crucial moment for our hero has finally arrived, filmmakers will often switch into slow motion filming. They want you to feel the tension. They want you to see the emotion etched on the face of our hero. They want to make sure you don’t miss a single detail of this pivotal moment in the story. 

The same thing happens in the life of Jesus.

The four Gospels record 3+ years of the life of Jesus on earth. But when Jesus is approaching the Cross—the crucial moment of His ministry—all the Gospel writers go into slow motion. 

For example, Mark doesn’t mention anything about the birth of Jesus and only gives us one verse to tell about satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. But he uses nearly 40% of his writing to describe the last week of Christ’s life. The numbers are similar for Matthew and Luke, with John devoting almost one-half of his account to Christ’s Passion Week. 

Clearly, there is something happening here that the Gospel writers want to ensure that we don’t miss a single detail! 

Jesus knew all that was about to happen to Him. When Peter swung his sword at the soldiers that came to arrest Him, Jesus said, “Do you think I cannot call on My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way” (Matthew 26:53-54). 

Every step that Jesus took toward the Cross was a step of love. Every word He spoke in His final moments before His death was calculated to sink deep into the memories of all who observed this story. 

We are going to go into “slow motion” as well as we look closely at each day of Christ’s final week of ministry. From His dinner in Bethany to His resurrection, we’ll slow down and ponder deeply the love message Jesus is still conveying to us. 

Join me this Sunday as we begin this passionate journey. If you cannot join us in person, we will be broadcasting each message on Facebook Live.

Here are the days we have already explored on this journey:

Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (book review)

Taking a journey with a tour guide who knows the terrain and the customs is always so much more rewarding than simply following the directions of some far-removed travel agent. In journeying through the four Gospels of the New Testament, a premier tour guide is close by in Kenneth Bailey and his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. 

All of us bring our own paradigms with us wherever we go. There is a certain way we see the world, and everything gets processed through those lenses. My natural bias, when I pick up the New Testament is to read it through my lenses of a 21st-century American. But Jesus lived in a specific time and place in world history. He lived as a Jewish man in Israel during the time the Roman Empire held sway over world affairs. 

If I try to read about a 1st-century Eastern world through 21st-century Western eyes, I will be missing so much of the richness. Kenneth Bailey lived and taught and was immersed in the middle eastern culture for decades. So with his western understandings and middle-eastern insights, he treats us to vistas of Scripture that I hadn’t seen before. 

Bailey is a first-rate scholar, but by no means is this book an academic study. On the contrary, Bailey’s scholarship will make the accounts of the life of Jesus come to life before your eyes! You will be noticing nuances and insights that you probably missed in all your previous readings. 

If you want to experience the Gospels in a new, exciting way, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you take Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes along with you for the journey! 

11 Quotes On The Gospel Of Matthew

J.C. Ryle has given us a wonderful commentary on the Gospels in his Expository Thoughts On The Gospels. Check out my full book review here, and then enjoy a few quotes from Ryle’s insights on the Gospel of Matthew. 

“The rulers of this world have often call themselves Great, Conqueror, Bold, Magnificent, and the like. The Son of God is content to call Himself Savior. These souls which desire salvation may draw near to the Father with boldness, and have access with confidence through Christ. It is His office and His delight to show mercy. ‘For God didn’t send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him’ (John 3:17).” 

“Trust Him at all times with all your sorrows. He will not despise you. Pour out all your heart before Him in prayer, and keep nothing back. He can sympathize with His people.” 

“Let us beware of resting satisfied with head-knowledge. It is an excellent thing, when rightly used. But a man may have much of it, and yet perish everlastingly. What is the state of our hearts? This is the great question. A little grace is better than many gifts. Gifts alone save no one. Grace leads on to glory.” 

“Here is one among many reasons why we ought to be diligent readers of our Bibles. The Word is the sword of the Spirit. We shall never fight a good fight, if we do not use it as our principal weapon. The Word is the lamp for our feet. We shall never keep the King’s highway to heaven, if we do not journey by its light. … Knowledge of the Bible never comes by intuition, it can only be obtained by diligent, regular, daily, attentive, wakeful reading.” 

“Aim at letting men see that we find Christianity makes us happy. Never let us forget that there is no religion in looking melancholy and gloomy. Are we dissatisfied with Christ’s wages and Christ’s service? Surely not! Then let us not look as if we were.” 

“Let the prayer ‘Lord, increase our faith,’ always form part of our daily petitions. We never perhaps know the weakness of our faith until we are placed in the furnace of trial and anxiety. Blessed and happy is that person who finds by experience that his faith can stand the fire, and that he can say with Job, ‘though He slays me yet will I trust in Him’ (Job 13:15).” 

“The more clearly we see Christ’s power, the more likely we are to realize Gospel peace. Our position may be trying. Our hearts may be weak. The world may be difficult to journey through. Our faith may seem too small to carry us home. But let us take courage when we think on Jesus, and not be cast down. Greater is He that is for us than all those who are against us. Our Savior can raise the dead. Our Savior is Almighty.” 

“Great grace and common sense are perhaps one of the rarest combinations. … Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself is our most perfect example. None were ever so faithful as He. But none were ever so truly wise. Let us make Him our pattern, and walk in His steps.” 

“Let us not be ashamed to say that we expect a literal fulfillment of unfulfilled prophecy. Let us frankly allow that there are many things we do not understand, but still hold our ground tenaciously, believe much, wait long, and not doubt that all will one day be made clear.” 

“Are we ever mocked and persecuted and thought foolish because of our religion? Let us bear it patiently and pray for those who persecute us. They know not what they are doing. They will certainly alter their minds one day. We may yet hear them confessing that we were wise and they were foolish. The whole world shall one day acknowledge that the saints of God made a wise choice.” 

“We can never attach too much importance to the atoning death of Christ. It is the leading factor in the Word of God, on which the eyes of our soul are to be ever fixed. Without the shedding of His blood, there is no remission of sin. It is the cardinal truth on which the whole system of Christianity hinges. Without it the Gospel is an arch without a key stone, a fair building without a foundation, a solar system without a sun.” 

Quotes from Ryle’s comments on the Gospels of Mark, Luke, and John coming soon. 

Expository Thoughts On The Gospels (book review)

J.C. Ryle was an Evangelical Anglican bishop who lived in England in the latter half of the 19th century. When Ryle’s words—written over 100 years ago—still resound with truth today, I would call that “a classic”! That is exactly what we find in his Expository Thoughts On The Gospels. 

The Gospels obviously focus on the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. Ryle takes how Jesus lived and taught and pulls out of them practical applications for Christians in his day, which still have perfect application for Christians today. I think what keeps his words so relevant is how closely he sticks with the biblical texts, seldom straying into his own opinion, but simply saying to us, “Did you see that?” 

His thoughts are presented to us section-by-section, not verse-by-verse as many biblical commentators do. This method has two distinct advantages for us: (1) It’s easier to get a “big picture” view of what Jesus was doing and teaching, and (2) It’s more manageable to use this book as a complement to a personal or group Bible study. 

In fact, Ryle himself suggested that the design of his commentary was with family devotions in mind. Purposely, he doesn’t delve into deep doctrine so that the youngest or most novice of Christians can gain much insight. But don’t confuse that statement with this being “light reading.” On the contrary, even the most tenured Christian will find ample thoughts to challenge his mind. 

I highly recommend this series of commentaries to those who want a deeper Bible study time.  

13 Quotes From “So Send I You”

So Send I You is a series of lectures from Oswald Chambers to Christian missionaries. Check out my full review of this book by clicking here.

“Intuition is the power to sense things without reasoning, and is a better guide than what is stated explicitly; but there is something infinitely more satisfactory—the entrance of the Holy Spirit into a man at new birth enabling him to see the kingdom of God and to enter into it.”

“The realization of the call of God in a man’s life may come as with a sudden thunder-clap or by a gradual dawning, but in whatever way it comes, it comes with the undercurrent of the supernatural, almost the uncanny; it is always accompanied with a glow—something that cannot be put into words. We need to keep the atmosphere of our mind prepared by the Holy Spirit lest we forget the surprise of the touch of God on our lives.”

“We are apt to have the idea that a man called to the ministry is called to be a different kind of being from other men. According to Jesus Christ, he is called to be the ‘doormat’ of other men; he is their spiritual leader, but never their superior. … I am not to come among men as a superior person, I am to come among men as the love-slave of Jesus Christ.” 

“Loose, trailing, uninspired thinking about sin will very soon trip us up. Gird up your thinking about sin, about holiness, about the eternal realities and the call of the unseen things.”

“To be a witness of Jesus means that when any duty presents itself we hear His voice just as He heard His Father’s voice, and we are ready for it with all the alertness of our love for Him.”

“Never put a thing aside because it is insignificant. If you trace it down, the insignificant thing has at the back of it the disposition of my right to myself. … Never discard a conviction; if it is important enough for the Spirit of God to have brought it to your mind, that is the thing He is detecting. You were looking for a great big thing to do, and God is telling you of some tiny thing; but at the back of the tiny thing is the central citadel of obstinacy.”

“Our Lord never called us to successful service; He calls us to present Him: ‘I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.’ God saves men; we are sent out to present Jesus Christ and His Cross, and to disciple the souls He saves. The reason we do not make disciples is that we are not disciples ourselves, we are out for our own ends.”

“In order to plough a straight furrow, you must look neither at the plough nor behind you, but at the far end of the field ahead. When once the call of God comes, begin to go and never stop going, no matter how many delightful resting places there may be on the way.”

“The attitude of the Christian life is that we must be prepared now, this second; this is the time. … It is easy to talk, easy to have fine thoughts; but none of that means being a disciple. Being a disciple is to be something that is an infinite satisfaction to Jesus every minute, whether in secret or in public.”

“The method of missions is clearly stated in each of the four Gospels. St. Matthew records the farewell command which Jesus gave to His disciples, and that command is to teach, i.e., disciple all nations; not make converts to our way of thinking, but make disciples of Jesus. In St. Mark’s Gospel the method is defined as preaching the gospel to every creature, accompanied by the power to cast out devils, and to speak with new tongues. In St. Luke’s Gospel the method is described as preaching repentance and remission of sins unto all the nations, and in St. John’s Gospel the method is described by Our Lord as feeding His sheep and tending His lambs.”

“If you put the worship of God first, and get the revelation of Who God is, then, when the call comes you will be ready for it, because of the worship and preparing in the unseen life, when the strain comes you are perfectly fit to be relied on by God. Worshiping is greater than work in that it absorbs work.”

“‘I have given them the glory that You gave Me’ [John 17:22]. What was the glory that Jesus had when He was Son of Man? It was not an external glory; Jesus effaced the Godhead in Himself so effectually that man without the Spirit of God despised Him. His glory was the glory of actual holiness, and that is the glory He says He gives to the saint. The glory of the saint is the glory of actual holiness manifested in actual life here and now.”

“If we try to get ‘head first’ into what Our Lord teaches, we shall exhibit the same stupidity as the disciples did, until we have received the Holy Spirit and learned to rely on Him, and to interpret the words of Jesus as He brings them to our mind.”

You can read some of the longer passages from this book that I share in my weekly “Thursdays With Oswald” feature.

6 Quotes From “The Dawn Of Christianity”

Robert J. Hutchinson makes the history around the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, as well as the history of Christ’s followers after His resurrection, come to life in The Dawn Of Christianity. Check out my full review by clicking here.

“Skeptics make much of the fact that historians have no independent corroboration from outside sources of most of the events described in the Gospels, but this is common with ancient history and hardly unique to Christianity. For example, virtually everything historians know about the Three Hundred, the Spartan warriors who held off a Persian invasion at the mountain pass of Thermopylae in 480 BC, comes from the writings of a single Greek author, Herodotus. What’s more, the earliest copy historians have of Herodotus’s chronicle of this event, The Histories, dates to the tenth century AD—or more than 1,350 years after it was written! In comparison, historians have a cornucopia of historical sources and archaeological evidence about Jesus of Nazareth and the early Christian community. For example, more than fifty papyrus manuscripts of New Testament texts exist that date before AD 300. The earliest of these manuscripts, a papyrus fragment from the Gospel of John known as P52, dates to around AD 125 or just thirty years after the original was likely written.”

“Around 20 BC, the half-Jewish King Herod the Great set himself the task of renovating and expanding the temple and surrounding area. There had been a small natural plateau there before, fixed atop the ridge in the northeastern corner of Jerusalem; but Herod wanted something far more spectacular. He therefore enclosed this natural plateau on all sides with four immense retaining walls, some more than one hundred feet high, made up of massive rectangular ashlars, or cut stones, that weighed as much as 415 tons each. These stones are so large that even modern cranes and bulldozers would have some difficulty moving them. Herod then filled in this entire quadrangle with stones and dirt, creating an artificial hilltop plaza—roughly 1,500 feet long by 1,000 feet wide—of more than thirty-five acres. In modern terms, Herod’s Temple Mount is so large that about twenty-six American football fields could fit in the space available. This massive engineering marvel has endured for two thousand years and still stands today, almost wholly intact.”

“Simon the Rock continued to loudly protest that he was willing to die, if need be, but would never deny Jesus. The other disciples said the same. This is one of those incidents that even many skeptics believe must be historical under the ‘criterion of embarrassment,’ which means that the Christian community was unlikely to invent a story that cast such a bad light on its leaders; therefore, it must have actually happened.” 

“Recent archaeological discoveries are showing that the New Testament in general, and the Gospels in particular, are far more reliable historical sources than previous generations of New Testament experts realized.”

“All four Gospels report that this board, what the Romans called the titulus, held the inscription ‘The King of the Jews.’ John’s Gospel alone reports that Jesus’ name was also on the titulus, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews,’ and that it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek (19:19-20). In Latin the charge read Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum, which is why, to this day, the letters INRI appear at the top of crucifixes.”

“In 1968, archaeologists uncovered a first-century tomb at Giv’at ha-Mivtar, northeast of Jerusalem. Inside the tomb they found in ossuary containing the skeleton of a crucified man—the first and only relic of a crucified man found in Israel. Inscribed on the ossuary was his name in Hebrew: Yehochanan. On top of the bone of his right heel was a wooden board, and through the board, and his heel, was a 4.5-inch iron nail.”

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