“Messy Grace” is an unusual story
The author, Caleb Kaltenbach was raised by a militantly lesbian mother and a homosexual father.
“Messy Grace” is an unusually helpful story
Caleb helps us to think about how Christians come across to those who are outside the church community. You will be challenged in how God uses you in the lives of those who are broken.
“Messy Grace” is an unusually powerful book
If you have a heart to reach people with abundant grace and uncompromising truth, this book will help you. And if you are not interested in those things, then you probably should read it twice!
I benefited by reading “Messy Grace” and I have been recommending it ever since. One of my small groups found that this book stimulated wonderful and needed conversations.
John Newton was a former slave trader who became a pastor. He is famous for his hymn “Amazing Grace”.
Near the end of his life, when Newton spoke before a group of people, a careful listener recorded this outline from Newton’s sermon. It is an encouraging reminder for every Christian
I am not what I ought to be.
Ah! how imperfect and deficient.
Not what I might be,
considering my privileges and opportunities.
Not what I wish to be.
God, who knows my heart, knows I wish to be like him.
I am not what I hope to be;
ere long to drop this clay tabernacle, to be like him and see him as he is.
Not what I once was,
a child of sin, and slave of the devil.
Though not all these, not what I ought to be, not what I might be, not what I wish or hope to be, and not what I once was, I think I can truly say with the apostle,
By the grace of God I am what I am!
I can still remember how exciting it was for me when I learned to read. Ever since, reading has been a central part of my life and a major use of my time. Here are some of my favorite books from 2016
Newton on the Christian Life by Tony Reinke
Reinke draws from Newton’s bountiful writings (primarily his letters) to present Newton’s theology of the Christian life
One-to-One Bible Reading by David Helm
A short book that presents the use of one to one Bible reading as an outreach tool
Habits of Grace by David Mathis
There are many books on the disciplines of the Christian life. This may be my favorite.
Messy Grace by Caleb Kaltenbach
A top book of the year. Kaltenbach was raised by a militant lesbian mother and a homosexual father. His book helps us understand how Christians come across to those outside the church community, and how to touch lives that are broken.
Spurgeon’s Sorrows by Zack Eswine
Eswine uses the writings of Charles Spurgeon and the Psalms to bring help to those who suffer from depression
Everyday Church by Tim Chester
Helping churches become Gospel communities on mission
Awe by Paul Tripp
Another excellent book by Tripp on living with a Biblical perspective through remaining in awe of God
Child in the Manger by Sinclair Ferguson
Thoughtful messages on the birth of Christ
The Christ of the Empty Tomb by James Boice
Thoughtful messages on the resurrection of Christ
Knowing Christ by Mark Jones
This is an exceptional collection of writings on the person of Christ. One of my favorite books of the year, which I have given to my children.
A Peculiar Glory by John Piper
I highly recommend this book on Piper which helps the Christian understand how the Bible was put together and how it reveals its glory and truthfulness
BIOGRAPHIES & MEMOIRS
Not Forgotten by Kenneth Eae
The powerful story of a Korean American believer who was imprisoned in North Korea
God Took Me by the Hand by Jerry ‘Bridges
Jerry Bridges uses his life story to teach truths on the sovereignty of God
J. C. Ryle by Iain Murray
An excellent biography on an influential pastor and writer of the 19th century
The Man Who Moved a Mountain by Richard Davids
The story of Bob Childress, who was a pastor in the rough and wild mountain communities of Virginia.
J. I. Packer by Leland Ryken
A biography on one of the most influential Christians of the last fifty years.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones by Christopher Catherwood
This book is part biography and part description of the impact of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ life written by his grandson.
The Diary of a Forty-Niner by Chauncey Canfield
A description of what life was like during the California gold rush in the 1850’s
A Pastor in New York by John Thornbury
A biography on Spencer Houghton Cone. Cone was not someone I had heard of, but I love biographies on pastors
Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron
An accomplished author gives us an inside view of his struggle with mental illness.
Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuel Sson
The memoirs of a world-famous chef born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden and cooking in America.
The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
The fascinating story of the brothers who invented the first airplane that worked.
Dinner With Churchill by Cita Stelzer
An interesting look at how Winston Churchill used dinners to conduct policy, particularly during World War II
The Greatest Knight by Thomas Asbridge
The true story of William Marshal, the most famous and powerful knight of the Middle Ages
Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
Gaffigan captures the humorous idiosyncrasies of parenting, especially with multiple children. It’s a book best listened too.
The History of Diners in New Jersey by Michael Gabriele
Diners and history in one book, what more needs to be said?
The Scarlett Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy
A classic that was fast paced and enjoyable. What I never knew is that this is the first in a series on that character.
One Man’s War by P. M. Kippert
An accurate description of what it was like to be a rifleman on the front line during World War II. Be warned: foul language abounds.
Living near the shore has its advantages.
I don’t get to the beach often, but when I do, I usually think to myself, “Why don’t I do this more often?”
My favorite time to walk along the beach is early evening, when the crowds are gone along with the heat.
Although the people have left, the sand bears many signs that swarms of them were recently present. In addition to the ubiquitous footprints in the sand, are the remnants of collapsed castles and abandoned excavations.
Yet, the next morning, all these evidences will all be washed smooth by the ever-flowing action of the waves.
God’s grace accomplishes a similar work in the believer’s heart.
Throughout each day, sin is disrupting our hearts and minds. As we come to the end of our day, we can see abundant evidence of sin’s disturbance.
However, the Cross never ceases to flow with the cleansing grace of Christ.
No matter how often our soul is disrupted, the merciful actions of our Savior have the final say. This is the proclamation of the Prophet Jeremiah in Lamentations 3:22-24
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
Child of grace, don’t neglect giving praise and thanksgiving to your faithful Savior.
He never tires of pouring grace upon you, so don’t tire in imitating his attentiveness.
As we develop the habit of recognizing the evidences of his grace, our minds will turn more easily to worship rather than worry. And our hearts will increasingly yearn for the good things that honor him.
The result will be a heart that is clean, and at rest.
Forget Your New Year’s Resolutions
Life is not going to improve because you resolve to try harder. But life can become increasing fruitful if you consistently respond to God who has already pursued you
If you are in Christ, you cannot keep your life from reaching its highest possible crescendo! This is because God has already resolved to complete his work in you!
“I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6)
“Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30)
“God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7)
The intention of these passages is to assure us that God is absolutely committed to completing the ultimate purpose he had in saving us.
In Romans 8 and Ephesians 2, notice how the end result of our salvation is spoken of in the past tense. This shows us, that in God’s eyes it is a finished work – that even our failures cannot stop!
I am not saying we shouldn’t bother to put effort into being faithful.
And I am not saying it doesn’t matter if we are spiritually half-hearted.
My point is that the foundation to why we “can” be faithful and fruitful, does not start with our earnest commitment toward making life work. It comes out of God’s irrevocable commitment toward all who trust in His Son.
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9)
“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (Philippians 3:12)
In these verses, we see that God is the basis – even for our responses to Him. This is not an invitation to give less effort. Rather, it is an encouragement that our efforts flow out and are held up by God’s faithfulness.
We will fail, we will face dry times, and at times we will feel utterly useless for God.
But that is only a partial reality. There is a greater reality, which is God’s resolution to never give up on those who belong to him.
Instead of a New Year’s resolution, start meeting God who has already come to you.
God has given his word to you, read it
God is here every morning, spend time with him
God’s graces are new every morning, praise him for them
Your children are God’s gift to you, let them see you are committed to him
God has established the Church to build you up and to use your gifts, commit to it
God has made us his ambassadors, be a person of the gospel
Yes, these actions require resolve from us.
But be encouraged that God makes it work. He does the heavy lifting.
Instead of a making a New Year’s Resolution soon to be abandoned. Start responding to God who is already pursuing you.
Every Christian should agree with what is in the Bible
Every Christian should live by what is in the Bible
Every Christian needs to know what is in the Bible
Every Christian ought to be reading the Bible – regularly, methodically and completely
God’s people are all on board with my first statement, and they most likely are not in disagreement with any of these statements.
But they may find themselves increasingly uncomfortable and disconnected as they go down the list.
There are many ways to approach Bible reading, and few of them are unhealthy (jumping around passages without reading through books of the Bible would be one). Yet there are important steps to becoming biblically literate and healthy.
One ingredient to biblical rootedness, is to read through the entire Bible (translation: read every page of it).
Certainly there are some portions of the Bible that are not as enjoyable or essential as others (skin diseases in Leviticus, and property allotments in Joshua come to mind). Yet there are plenty of important benefits to reading it all.
As we begin 2017 and the brief days of acting on New Year’s Resolutions, make a commitment to reading the Bible regularly and all the way through. How long this takes is not that important. But getting it done will benefit your life.
As an encouragement to reading the entire Bible, take a few minutes to peruse this article by Kristen Wetherell, “17 Benefits to reading the Entire Bible”.
This will take effort and persistence, but it will leave you joyful and without regret. Which is more than you can say for all the ways you spend time not reading your Bible
“Can our family live without having devotions together?”
This a prodigious question for parents with children still at home.
The short answer is, yes you can live.
But the fuller answer is, not anywhere near as well as a Christian family should!
Family devotions are not about parents being scholars, teachers, or having all the answers.
Family devotions are about inserting God and his Word into family life. It an essential process for making sure that the most important truths for life and eternity are given a prominent voice in our home.
If your answer is “My children get enough of God at church and their Christian school.”
My response is NO THEY DON”T!!
What your children don’t get – and this is enormous– is to see that the most influential people to them are committed to loving God and putting him first in their lives. They don’t see that your family is led by God’s Word – unless they experience your family reading and implementing God’s Word
In the end, God has placed the primary discipleship role on parents. God gave your children to you and God made you their parents. Your church has an essential role that supplements, not supplants the role of parents.
If your answer is “But I don’t know where to start and what to do?”
I understand. Keep it simple.
Gather the family
Open your Bible to the New Testament
Read a small portion (they key is consistency not amount)
If an application or comment comes to you, share it. If not, don’t worry about it
Close with prayer
Over time you will become more comfortable doing it. And if you sincerely pray for God to help, he will answer that prayer.
Be encouraged in knowing that God is always the main character in the process.
To help stir up some good ideas for family devotions, I urge you to read this article by Tim Challies. He gives 10 Ideas for family devotions and then adds 10 Tips to help make it work.
The Christmas Story Ends with a King
The Wise Men were late comers to Jesus’ birth
Some think v16 indicates this scene was two years after Jesus birth
The time could certainly have been far shorter; however, it is later, and Jesus’ family is now in a “house” (v11)
Perhaps they needed to stay away from Nazareth, due to family tensions caused by Mary’s pregnancy
Who are these visitors who set a vivid contrast to the shepherds?
The Wise Men or Magi were likely priestly advisors
They are from the “east”, probably Persia or Babylonia (which was a 750-1000 mile journey)
Either location had a long history of influence from Judea
Roman historians indicate that Jewish Messianic hopes were widely known
Their trip was clearly a work of God to them, and in them
The “star” which led them was clearly not a natural phenomenon
Somehow, they connected its appearance to the Jewish Messiah
They were motivated to travel a great distance at significant cost
The Magi arrived in Jerusalem asking what they thought would be known:
“Where is he who was born king of the Jews?”
No one was aware that the Messiah had been born
Yet, the religious leaders had no problem identifying where that would take place (vs 5-6)
This news “troubled” Herod and the city
Herod was troubled because he was king, but not by right (Herod was not of David’s line or fully Jewish)
Herod was also very paranoid (he killed two of his sons)
The religious and political leaders were troubled, because a Messiah showing up would take from their influence
When Herod got his information, he “secretly” met with the Wise Men
He doesn’t want his real plan, to get rid of the Messiah, to become known
The Wise Men now know to look in Bethlehem – only 6 miles away
Then the star also appeared again – and led them to the exact location
The emotions of the Magi in this moment are striking (v10)
It had been a long trip, but this is more than relief from travel fatigue
What the Magi saw when they arrived, was not impressive (v11)
Yet, they humbled themselves, and “fell down and worshiped”
They also gave generous “gifts”; such as would be given if visiting a ruler
Imagine the drama of the spectacle of the Magi’s arrival
Arriving at Joseph and Mary’s front door is an entourage from a distant land
They are eager to see the child, and upon seeing him, fall to ground
How can we use this story of the Magi?
Christ is to be worshiped!
The angels worshiped, the shepherds worshiped and the Magi worshiped
Any response to Christ that doesn’t include worship is simply wretched
There are two groups that stand in stark contrast to all the worshipers in the Christmas Story
(1) Those who simply ignored Jesus
The people in Jerusalem heard the Messiah may have been born, but they couldn’t be bothered to go and see
What of Christians who know Jesus lives! Yet to read his Word, to regularly pray, or to serve him – are considered too much trouble
If you call Jesus King, will you not bow or give him the treasure of your life?
(2) Herod who tried to get rid of Jesus
Herod is an example of all who are desperate to hold onto the throne of their lives
We all start there, we all begin life desperate to be king over it
Christ cannot be gotten rid of, pushed aside, or overthrown (Psalm 2)
And in the end neither can he be ignored! (Romans 14:11-12)
The Christmas Story ends with a King and this King will reign!
by Debbie Huber
When Kyle and I began raising our family we both brought Christmas traditions from our childhood together to make our own family traditions. Some of my traditions revolved around baking Christmas cookies and decorating the house. Kyle brought the traditions of creating a Christmas countdown calendar for the children and allowing the children to open their stockings in their beds when they woke up early on Christmas morning. The memories of these traditions are priceless for our family.
Another tradition that we started as a family was to read the biblical account of the birth of Christ together before any presents were opened. This kept the focus on what was most important.
In her book, “Treasuring God in Our Traditions”, Noel Piper emphasizes the importance of our traditions to demonstrate that God is at the center of all of our lives.
“God is the reason that we have anything to celebrate. He is the ultimate source of our celebrations. As we read in James 1:17, ‘Every good gift and every gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.'”
How would your favorite Christmas tradition change if you looked at the people you are sharing it with and thanked God that He created them, that He chose this day for them to share it with you? We might want to plan a time to pray specifically for those people.
How would the focus of our traditions change if we looked at them to strengthen our ultimate hope in Jesus? Do others see our joy we have because of Christ’s birth?
Let us pray that our traditions will reflect Christ and increase our delight in God.