Follow Along

Get new posts by email:

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Books I Read in 2013

Me with a book on the beach at the Gulf of Mexico.
(By the way, I didn't enter! )
Matt’s Books Completed* in 2013:
                                               
1. The Commodore by Patrick O’Brian
2. A Grave Talent by Laurie King
3. The Yellow Admiral by Patrick O’Brian
4. Mission to Cathay by Madeleine Polland
5. The Last Superhero by Stephen Altrogge
6. The Hundred Days by Patrick O’Brian
7. The Kings of Clonmel by John Flanagan
8. The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
9. Practical Happiness by Bob Schultz
10. At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon
11. Mountain Born by Elizabeth Yates
12. Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O’Brian
13. The Land I Lost by Huynh Quang Nhuong
14. The Emperor of Nihon-Ja by John Flanagan
15. Create: Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Stuff by Stephen Altrogge
16. Sexual Sanity for Men by David White [In my top 5 for the year. My review at the BCC.]
17. The Lost Stories by John Flanagan
18. Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers
19. The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill
20. God Told Me by Jim Samra
21. The Dragon’s Tooth by N.D. Wilson
22. Daughter of the Mountains by Louise Rankin
23. Birmingham by Tim Stafford
24. The Outcasts by John Flanagan
25. The Invaders by John Flanagan
26. Torn by Justin Lee [My reviews: #1, #2. #3.]
27. Me, Myself, and Bob by Phil Vischer [brief review]
28. Bound Together by Chris Brauns [In my top 5 for the year. My brief review.]
29. The Dark Faith by Jeremiah Montgomery
30. The Racketeer by John Grisham
31. The Drowned Vault by N.D. Wilson
32. Joni & Ken by Ken & Joni Eareckson Tada
33. Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher
34. False Scent by Ngaio Marsh
35. Homer Price by Robert McCloskey
36. The Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead
37. The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield [In my top 5 for the year.]
38. The Bone House by Stephen Lawhead
39. Dead Water by Ngaio Marsh
40. Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers
41. The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead
42. Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views ed. by James Beilby and Paul Eddy  [brief review]
43. The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith
44. Risen by Steven Mathewson [In my top 5 for the year. My review.]
45. Eric Liddell: Something Greater Than Gold by Janet & Geoff Benge
46. The Hunters by John Flanagan
47. The Wind in the Willows by Inga Moore
48. Friends, Lovers, Chocolate by Alexander McCall Smith
49. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
50. The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkein
51. Death at La Fennice by Donna Leon
52. Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen and Bahija Lovejoy
53.  The Right Attitude to Rain by Alexander McCall Smith
54. Black as He’s Painted by Nagaio Marsh
55. Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
56. Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds by Philip E. Johnson
57. The Hunt Club by Brett Lott
58. Artists in Crime by Ngaio Marsh
59. Dead Low Tide by Brett Lott
60. A Play of Isaac by Margaret Frazier
61. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
62. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
63. Great Tales of Action and Adventure edited by George Bennett
64. Hood by Stephen Lawhead
65. Scarlet by Stephen Lawhead
66. Tuck by Stephen Lawhead
67. The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan
68. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
69. The Evolution of Adam by Peter Enns
70. Did Adam and Eve Really Exist by C. John Collins
71. A Whiff of Death by Isaac Asimov
72. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
73. Back on Murder by J. Mark Bertrand
74. Monkey Sonatas by Orson Scott Card
75. Invasive Procedures by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston
76. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
77. Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers
78. Pattern of Wounds by J. Mark Bertrand
79. William Carey: Obliged to Go by Janet & Georff Benge
80. Nothing to Hide by J. Mark Bertrand
81. Journey to Jo’burg by Beverley Naidoo
82. The Novice’s Tale by Margaret Frazer
83. Finding God in the Dark by Ted Kluck & Ronnie Martin  [brief review]
84. A Morbid Tastes for Bones by Ellis Peters
85. A Better December by Steve Estes [In my top 5 for the year. My review at the BCC. My interview with the author.]
86. Sycamore Row by John Grisham
87. Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games by Kevin Schut  [brief review]
88. A Play of Dux Moraud by Margaret Frazer
89. Reflections of a Small Town Pastor by Lee J. Smith [my review at the NS Resources Blog]
90. One Bible, Many Versions by Dave Brunn [In my top 5 for the year. My review.]
91. The Shadow Lamp by Stephen Lawhead
92. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
93. The Royal Ranger by John Flanagan
94. Bridging the Diversity Gap by Alvin Sanders [my short review]
95. Heart of the Matter by CCEF Authors  [My review at the BCC]
96. The Secret Garden by France Hodgson Burnett
97. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
98. Jotham’s Journey by Arnold Ytreeide
99. The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall
100. The One Year Bible New International Version (1984)

* These are books I finished reading in 2013, not the ones I started or the ones I didn't get done. I read a bunch of them for fun, some for homeschooling, and a lot of them just to learn and grow.

As I say each year--I'm not endorsing these books just because they are listed here. Some of them are really good and some are really bad. Most are somewhere in between. Read with discernment.

[Here's the post where I explain why I post these.]

Previous Years:


2011

Monday, December 30, 2013

My Worst Book of 2013

And winning the award for the worst book I read in 2013 is The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn.

You can read my 3 reviews here.  Review #1 is only one word: "Blech."

Even More Books from 2013

Last week, I posted my first ever top books of 2013 list and also some other good books that I recommend.

This week, at the year's very end, I'll be posting my traditional list of all of the books I finished this year.

Today, I wanted to highlight several other books that I read this year for which I am grateful.  These are books that challenged me in significant ways. I don't necessarily agree with them or can't recommend them without some caveat or providing some explanatory context, but I am very glad that I read them because of how they sharpened me.

If you only have a little time for books, I recommend reading the best of the best. But if you have time and curiosity, it's really good to read books that stretch you.

Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee

I ran a several post series evaluating this important book:

#1 Gay
#2. Torn about Torn - Five Things I Appreciated
#3. Torn about Torn - Three Things That Disturbed Me Most

(I still have a fourth post in mind to finish that series some day.)

Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games by Kevin Schut

I read this book to coordinate its reviews in EFCA Today magazine and look forward to linking to those reviews when they come out.

I enjoyed reading Schut's book, especially because it was written by someone who is both an avid gamer and a deep Christian thinker.

I'm not sure I agreed with all of his conclusions, but it's a great conversation starter about a humongous phenomenon.

Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views ed. by James Beilby and Paul Eddy

I'm really glad I read this one in conjunction with coordinating these review at EFCA Today.

The contributors really come from incredibly different perspectives and reach very different conclusions, but they interact graciously with each other and do a good job of showing how they got where they ended up.

I learned something from each chapter but believe that David Powlison understands the Bible the best. I think this one should be read by every seminarian (if they don't read a book by each contributor). The only thing missing was a chapter by Neil Anderson to represent his popular perspective.

The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn't Say about Human Origins by Peter Enns 

Challenging read. I learned a lot. I agreed with many of his values and appreciated what he felt like he compelled to attempt with this book (to honestly re-read the biblical data in the light of evolutionary science, extra-biblical context, and the new perspectives on Paul).  I also appreciated his tone--I had expected more combativeness. He was winsome and sympathetic, I thought, to his opponents.

On the other hand, I didn't agree with many many of his premises and therefore thought his conclusions were all wrong.

I was glad I read it in conjunction with this one:

Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care by C. John Collins

Collins establishes a "Mere Adam-and-Eve-Ism," trying to demonstrate the least of what is essential to affirm about A&E from the Bible. Then he explores several scenarios for reconciling this data to the current scientific conclusions.

I learned a lot and was affirmed in my faith. The author knows his stuff and is a clear writer. I still have lots of questions, though I think Collins handily answered a number of the questions Enns had raised in The Evolution of Adam. More thinking (and reading) required for me.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

[Matt's Messages] "Search Me"

“Search Me”
December 29, 2013
Psalm 139

We will return, Lord-willing, to David the fugitive in 1 Samuel next Sunday, but this week, I wanted to build a bridge from 2013 to 2014 with the prayer of David in Psalm 139.

Starting next week, we’re going to memorize, as our “Hide the Word” passage verses 23 and 24 of Psalm 139. An awesome prayer to make your own:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Isn’t that a great prayer?

So, the sermon title for today is “Search Me.”

And that’s not a snide remark like, “I don’t know! Search me!”

It’s a prayer for God to look into your heart and see what is truly there.

It’s an invitation for God to know you as you really are and to move you to become who you were made to be.

“Search Me.”

I chose Psalm 139 for today mainly because we’re looking at a new year, just around the corner, a year of uncertainty. Who knows what 2014 will bring?

I’m certain that 2014 will have blessing in it for God’s people.

But I’m also sure that 2014 will have trouble in it for God’s people. Trials and difficulties, some of them bewildering, I’m sure.

And I wanted to preach a message of comfort but also one of challenge and conviction as we look at the new year.

Because the bigger question is not what is going to happen to me in 2014, but what kind of a person am I going to be before God in 2014?

Will I be faithful?
Will I be trusting?
Will I be obedient?
Will I be loyal?

What kind of a person am I going to be before God in 2014? That’s the question.

“Search me.”

Psalm 139, verse 1, the superscription.

“For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.”

We don’t know much more about the context of this prayer–many scholars believe that David has been accused by someone else of being unfaithful to the Lord, and he is seeking vindication here. Not sure if that’s true.

Not sure at all what the historical setting was for this Psalm. Sometimes, it’s better not to know because the application feels even more immediate.

Regardless of the setting, it’s a psalm of David meant to be sung by others like us and applied to our lives today.

David ends the Psalm by asking God to search him, but he begins the psalm by stating that he knows the LORD already has searched him. V.1

“O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.”

Point #1 of 4 this morning.

#1. YOU KNOW ME.

David can end up asking God to search him, because he already knows that the LORD has already done so.

You know me.

“O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.”

That word for “search” means to examine.

In our computerized world, we use the word “search” all the time these days.

Often, we set a computer going to find some piece of information that we lack.

Searching, searching, searching.

We google things nowadays. Right? The ubiquitous “search bar.”

But this is not an impersonal search for a trivial piece of information.

This is being known. This is being examined. This is a Person taking a close look at another person.

It’s more like a trip to the doctor than putting a word in a Google search bar.

“God, You have checked me out.  You know me.” ...

David is amazed at how well God knows him. V.2

“You know when I sit and when I rise;”

Up or down. You know it.

And not just what position, I’m in. What I’m thinking!

“...you perceive my thoughts from afar.”

God is a mind-reader. V.3

“You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.”

Whether I get up and head out to work in the morning or come home and go to bed, you know all of my doings. My patterns. My ways.

And this is not just impersonal information. It’s not just that God has a database of factoids about me. He knows me. He is familiar with my ways.

Many of you have pets. Do you know the ways of your pet?

If you come home and that pet is nowhere to be seen, do you have a good idea where they could be found?

You know the ways of that pet. Their comings and goings and habits.

It’s not just that you could look it up in an Encyclopedia. “This is what cats generally do.” You know this pet and how he or she acts. You are familiar with their ways.

How much more is God familiar with our ways?

He knows us better than we know ourselves. V.4

“Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.”

Sometimes my wife knows what I’m going to say before I do. I thought I just came up with that sentence, but she was way ahead of me.

Not necessarily because we think alike, but because she knows me.

How much more does God know us.

Do you see how personal this is?

David is saying, “You know me.” Completely. And not just as a bunch of facts but personally, intimately, deeply, truly, relationally.

You know me. V.5

“You hem me in–behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”

I just can’t grasp how much you know me, God!

David is filled with wonder that he is known in this way.

Does that same truth fill us with wonder today?

Most people desperately want to be known.

I think that’s one of the major reasons for much of what we see, for example, on social media like Facebook.

“Know me! I’m putting myself out here. Know me!”

You are known! By the One that matters the most.

“O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. ... Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”

#2. YOU’VE GOT ME.

That’s what David saying in v.5 with “You hem me in–behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.”

You’ve got me. I’m trapped!

There is no escape from behind–not back door.
There is no escape from before–you’ve arrested me. You’ve laid your hand on me.

It’s not clear whether or not David wants to escape from God.

Perhaps, that feeling of being known also gives him a touch of the willies and fosters an urge to escape.

Or maybe he’s just saying that even if he wanted to get away, he knows that he can’t.

Either way, there is no hiding from the Lord. V.7

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

There is no getting away from God. He is everywhere.

If verses 1-6 were about God’s omniscience, verses 7- 12 are about God’s omnipresence.

But it’s not just that God is there and standing around like some absent minded professor.

“Oh yes, he’s here, but he’s not all here.”

No, this is saying that God is present. He is relationally with David wherever David would run to.

The sky? Check.
The ocean floor? Check.
Flying at the speed of light? He’s there.
On the other side of the world. He’s there, too.

You can’t get away from God.

You can run, but you can’t hide.

Not even the darkest place. V.11

“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

For the God who is light, there is no place that is dark.

What’s the upshot of that?

Well, at first, it might not seem like good news.

Who wants inescapable supervision?

Somebody watching you all of the time?

But David knows that it is good news. V.10 again.

Wherever I am, “...even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

I’ll tell you wants inescapable supervision: sheep do.

Sheep need a shepherd.

We are needy people, and we need a good shepherd to keep a guiding hand on us all of the time.

It’s so good to be able to say, “You’ve got me.”

“Lord, you’ve got me. I know that I can’t get away from you, and that’s  such a good thing!  I’m yours.”

Because #3. YOU MADE ME. V.13

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

This is how deep this relationship goes: David knows that he is the Lord’s creation.

God is not just omniscient and omnipresent. He is the Creator. The maker.

God didn’t just come to know David over time.

He has known David all along.

Because He made him!

This is the verse that we quote every year around Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.

And that’s right. It’s all about that. All about how God is intimately involved in making us. He designed us.

He designed each of us personally, and that bestows a heaping measure of dignity to every human life.

But David is saying something even more profound. He’s saying that in making us, God knows us and has every right over us. V.15

“My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place [the womb]. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

I think that David uses the image of “the depths of the earth” to describe the most hidden place that he can think of.

The womb was, for David, the most hidden place on earth.

But God saw into the womb.

God was there, and God was directing that new life.

“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you.”

David just lives in amazement.

He can’t believe how fearfully and wonderfully he is made and he can’t hardly believe how sovereign God is over his life, and he can’t believe how deep and long and wide are the thoughts of God.

Thoughts that make and create. Thoughts that are so awesome they cannot be numbered.

Now, scholars are divided over what that last sentence means.

“When I awake, I am still with you.”

Does that mean that David has been exhausted by these innumerable thoughts and then wakes up at that point?

Or does it go back to the first section and mean that even in the mornings when David gets up, there is God?

Some scholars even think it means awakening from resurrection. Even when we come back from the sleep of death.

Any way about it, the point is “I am still with you.”

There He is! There He is.  God is present.

And I am with Him.

Now, how “with Him” am I?

How with God am I?  He’s all here, but am I all his?

I think that’s the point of the next four verses.

For many of us, these four verses feel like an intrusion. Like they don’t fit.

But they flowed very naturally for King David. V.19

“If only you would slay the wicked, O God! Away from me, you bloodthirsty men! They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD, and abhor those who rise up against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.”

Now, we tend to stumble over these verses because they seem so far from our Lord Jesus’ command to love our enemies.

And there is something new about our Lord’s command that at least modifies what is going on here in these verses.

But the emphasis here is not on personal hatred of those who are our enemies.

The emphasis is on loyalty to God over against those who are His enemies.

David is saying that he does not side with those who side against God.

“Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD, and abhor those who rise up against you?”

Another way of saying it would be to say, “I am not on Satan’s side. Not one bit.”

I’m on God’s side!

I don’t identify with the enemies of God. I hate them.

Do you see how that works?

It’s not saying that we shouldn’t love our enemies. God loves His enemies!

But there is a way to love our enemies and a way to hate them.

If the choice is between loving them and their ways or loving God and His, then we side with God every time.

David is saying:

#4. YOU CAN COUNT ON ME.

How’s that for a declaration for 2014? I’m going to be on the Lord’s side.

“You can count on me, Lord.

You know which side of the field to find me on.”

I know that you know me.
I know that you’ve got me.
I know that you made.

And so, I’m yours.

So, go ahead–search me.  V.23

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Go ahead, Lord.

I know that you already know what you’ll find.

Search me. Know my heart.

Test me. Examine me.

Listen to my thoughts.

Some of them, I admit, are anxious. Not just anxiety in general, but I’m anxious about you. God, sometimes you worry me.

Sometimes, I feel like I want to escape, to hide, to get out of your gaze.

But I know there is nowhere to go.

And when I think about it the right way, I know that there is no place I’d rather be than with You.

And my anxieties about life?  You can know those, too.  I cast my cares on You because You care for me.

Go ahead! Search me.

You can see for Yourself that I love you and am loyal to you.

I am on your side. You can count on me.

“See if there is any offensive way in me...” and if there is, I turn away from it right now.

Point it out to me.  And change me.

“Lead me in the way everlasting.”

“Take me on the new path, the path of eternal life.

The path of righteousness.

Search me.

I invite you to search me.

I invite you to know me as I really am and to make me who you want me to be.”


Search me.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Great Week for "Resisting Gossip"

Wow! It's been a great week for Resisting Gossip.

1. Monergism Books has listed it as one of their top 12 books of 2013.

2. TGC has posted the podcast of my interview with Mark Mellinger for "Going Deeper with the Gospel Coalition" on iTunes.

3. And the fabulous ongoing e-book Kindle sale at Amazon led to Resisting Gossip being ranked at #804 (out of 1 million!) on the Amazon Kindle best-seller list!

Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Homemade (or Homewritten) Christmas Gifts Are the Best!


For Christmas this year, three of my sweet kids gave me short, persuasive essays that they had to write for school on why their Dad was the best. (My other son wrote a similar essay about his Mom). They are tongue-in-cheek humorous and also give a glimpse into what they think of dear old Dad. I love it.

It's a blessing to be called Dad at this house. Merry Christmas to me!

***

My Dad’s Better Than Yours 
by Peter Mitchell

My Dad’s better than yours! He goes up on stage every Sunday and speaks an hour and half. He wrote a book called Resisting Gossip. And he goes and he splits wood all day long, and I stack it all in twenty foot long cords. He’s like a big Paul Bunyan preacher!!!

***

My Dad Is Better Than Yours
by Isaac Mitchell

My Dad is better than yours because I am his son. And I am so great, so your Dad can’t match mine! Also my dad can split a whole pile of logs in just a couple days. I bet yours can’t! My Dad’s the best in the world at preaching on stage in front of 200 people. There!

***

My Awesome Dad
by Robin Joy Mitchell

My Dad is awesome! Sometimes he takes me with him when he goes to State College, and we have an awesome time! My Dad wrote a book called Resisting Gossip. Sometimes he goes places to talk about it, and he takes me with him to run the book table. My Dad is sooo cool! Sometimes he takes our whole family out to a shooting range, and we shoot a whole bunch of .22's. My Dad’s an amazing pastor and a good juggler. I am proud to have him as my Dad!

I love you, Dad!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas from the Mitchells!

Family Vacation in Banff, July 2013

Merry Christmas from Our Family to Yours!

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
- Luke 2:14

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Season E-Book Sale for "Resisting Gossip"



"Resisting Gossip E-book will be on our Christmas season sale from December 25th, 2013 – Jan. 1st, 2014: 7 days, only on Amazon and Apple. Reg. price is $9.99, sale price is $3.99.

The sale can be found in these links:

Amazon (Sale price is already in effect!)


Please help us get the word out through your church, blog, website, Facebook, Twitter, newsletter, etc.

Thanks and Merry Christmas."

More Good Books From 2013

Yesterday, I posted my first ever "Top Books of the Year" list here at Hot Orthodoxy.

There were a bunch of other books that I enjoyed and learned from, gave a goodly number of stars for at Amazon and GoodReads, and also recommend to others that I didn't short list to the tip top.

I commend these to you, as well:


Reflections of a Small Town Pastor: Engaging in God's Mission in Smaller Places by Lee J. Smith

I have read other books about small town and rural ministry, but it had been awhile, and this book was refreshing and affirming of what I do every week. Smith clearly loves the “town and country” church and desires for pastoral ministries to flourish in those settings.

Reflections would be the first book I would now give to a young seminarian who is thinking about going to a rural or small town church or who has just received their first call to one.

[Read my review at the Next Step Resources blog.]



The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield

Rosaria Butterfield was a leftist lesbian university professor with a disdain for Christianity. Then she was shown Christian love by a couple who became her true friends, and eventually she came to Christ and found her true identity in Him. Now, she is a pastors' wife and has written out her story in this book.

The Secret Thoughts was one of the most engaging, encouraging, and interesting things I read this last year as I wrote about hope for holy sexuality.

[Her testimony was featured in Christianity Today.]

Bridging the Diversity Gap: Leading Toward God's Multi-Ethnic Kingdom by Alvin Sanders

This is a great introduction and guide to leading organizational change towards a Christ-centered multi-ethnicity. EFCA leader Alvin Sanders promotes an "inside out, top down, and all in" philosophy. I especially appreciated how Sanders showed the biblical/theological underpinnings of the goal and also didn't sugar-coat the obstacles to achieving success. Full of sobering realism with no "silver-bullets," yet hopeful for real progress.

[Read my very short review here.]


Finding God in the Dark: Faith, Disappointment, and the Struggle to Believe
by Ted Kluck and Ronnie Martin


These two authors open up their lives and share their stories of deep life disappointments. They also share how they sinfully responded to their disappointments and then what God taught them through it all.

One of the authors, Ronnie Martin, has recently become an EFCA church planter in our district and a new friend. He's also the author of the popular article "Hey Worship Leader, Are You a Theological Lightweight?" at The Gospel Coalition.


Me, Myself, and Bob: A True Story About Dreams, God, and Talking Vegetables by Phil Vischer

I thought this might be fun read. I'm a fan of Veggie-Tales (who isn't?) and this promised the backstory of both it and its creator. I grabbed it out of the church library one Sunday afternoon....and didn't put it down until I'd read all 274 pages.

I had known that Vischer had kind of burned out, but I didn't realize how bad it had gotten and why.  He does a great job of telling his own story in both the highest highs and the lowest lows and also some of the lessons that God taught him through it all.

And he's constantly funny (still is, I follow him on Twitter). Me, Myself, and Bob may not be the best book ever, but it was just what I needed that day.

One of the best things about what happened in and to Phil Vischer was that he ended up creating What's in the Bible? which is better than Veggie-Tales, by far.

Monday, December 23, 2013

My Top Books of 2013

I've never before published a list of  "top books of the year."

I normally post the full list of books that read in a certain year, but I've never tried to narrow down my list to a select group of favorites.

But this year, I have been experienced how encouraging it can be to included in a list like this (Thanks, Challies, DeYoung, Valenti, and Welch for listing Resisting Gossip in yours!), so I decided to give it a try. It wasn't easy, but I did it.

I looked over the list of the hundredish books I've finished reading this year (most were not published in 2013), and picked the top books beside the Bible:

- That had the most personal impact on me, my thinking, my heart.
- That I was the most consistently enthusiastic about.
- That I kept coming back to again and again.
- That I couldn't help recommending to others (and recommend without reservations and significant caveats).

And here were my top 5 for 2013:


5. Bound Together: How We Are Tied to Others in Good and Bad Choices
by Chris Brauns

This is now my "go to" book for a brief and practical explanation of the doctrines of original sin and union with Christ. Bound Together is a great introduction to those big ideas and also brings them together in eye-opening ways.

I didn't get all of my questions answered about how solidarity works (especially in tension with a healthy individuality), but I'm more convinced than ever of the truth of solidarity and more thankful than ever, as well, because "the rope of the gospel is stronger than the rope of original sin."

[Read my short review here.]


4. Sexual Sanity for Men: Re-Creating Your Mind in a Crazy Culture by David White 

No one should need convincing that, here in North America, we live in a culture that has gone insane over sex. Our day is characterized by so much confusion, so much heart-ache, so much access and addiction to unholy and unhealthy choices—Internet pornography, fornication, same-sex attraction, adultery, sexual fantasy, masturbation. Men are in the thick of this battle, and often losing. Men are isolated, pinned down under heavy crossfire, and do not know where to turn.

David White of Harvest USA has done Christian men a great service by writing Sexual Sanity for Men. The topic is sexual brokenness, the goal is holy sexuality, and the author offers gospel-centered hope. White presents himself, not just as a guide but, as a fellow-traveler on this road. He shares glimpses of his own story as both a sinner and a sufferer which lends credibility and encouragement to his message. The chief strength of Sexual Sanity for Men is how the author applies high-octane, gospel-centered theology to the tortuous problem of sexual temptation. Men need high-octane theology, and they need hope that King Jesus will help His men deal with their problem.

[Read my full review at the Biblical Counseling Coalition.]

3. Risen: 50 Reasons Why the Resurrection Changed Everything by Steven Mathewson

Steven Mathewson has done a marvelous job of crafting 50 bite-sized meditations on the resurrection that are both theological and applicational at the same time. It's perfect for reading between Resurrection Sunday (Easter) and Holy Spirit Sunday (Pentecost).

Mathewson masterfully takes readers on a treasure hunt through the New Testament to find out how the apostles connected the doctrine of the resurrection to other points of doctrine and then to our lives.

On one level, I knew most of the things he said, but I had never thought as deeply or as interconnectedly about them on the level that Risen takes you, especially all at one time.

[Read my short review here.]

2. One Bible, Many Versions: Are All Translations Created Equal? by Dave Brunn

This book should be required reading in every seminary and the first book read when "translation wars" erupt in local churches.

Brunn makes a clear, compelling, and winsome case for a multiplicity of versions being a complementary blessing to the church and the world.

He also convincingly demonstrates that the versions who have literal ideals are not nearly as consistent at their translation philosophy as one might think--and that that is a good thing! He shows that there is more to an excellent translation than literalness, and all great translations evidence that. Our strong English translations actually have much more in common than they have differences.

[Read my short review here.]

1. A Better December: Proverbs to Brighten Christmas by Steven Estes

In this little gift-sized book, Pastor Estes has taken the wisdom of Solomon in all of its brevity and sagacity and applied it directly to the blessings and perils of the holiday season.

It is inspirational without being sentimental, warm and winsome without being sappy or fluffy. A Better December is full of deep, practical, biblical content presented in an imaginative, often wryly humorous, and engaging style.

The best thing about A Better December is how Estes brilliantly smiths his words. There aren’t that many, but each and every word is carefully chosen for maximum rhetorical effect, making it a delightful read. Estes doesn’t just teach from the Proverbs, he writes like the Proverbs–concise, precise, incisive. It’s a pleasure to read out loud, and it’s impossible to not be moved.
                                                                                             
Sarah Bland-Halulko has generously sprinkled her whimsical hand-drawn illustrations throughout the book, adding to the magical quality of the writing.

I highly recommend A Better December for just about any Christian reader and even folks who are not yet followers of Christ. As the book progresses, there is a narrative movement from Solomon to Jesus and the gospel is clearly and beautifully presented in an unique and disarming way.

I’m so glad I read it. This December was has been much better because I did.

[Read my full review at the Biblical Counseling Coalition or my interview with Steve Estes.]

Sunday, December 22, 2013

[Matt's Messages] "Angels We Have Heard on High"

“Angels We Have Heard on High”
December 22, 2013
Luke 2:13-14  

Put yourself in their shoes.

Huddled in the cold, damp, dark night in the Bethlehem countryside, you are a shepherd.  You are the “low-man” on the “totem-pole” of society.  You have a rough, rotten job that earns no respect, and you...smell like sheep!

But tonight, tonight everything in your little world is going to change. Suddenly {BAM!}, an amazing extraterrestrial being appears before you!  It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.  And a shimmering blaze of gleaming light radiates around you.

You are scared out of your wits!  Your knees buckle together, and you almost cry like a baby you are so terrified!

And then, then this being–this messenger from God...speaks to you...with words in your own language.  He/she/it/whatever announces that the world has just been invaded by the Son of God Himself.  In the next town over, a Savior has been born that is the promised Messiah and the Lord of all the Earth.

You stand there and you receive this information with your eyes wide open and your mouth hanging down to your chest and your mind reeling with this news.  You are almost beside yourself with wonder and astonishment.

And then...then it gets even more amazing!

Luke chapter 2, verse 13: “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’”

That fearsome being was no longer alone.  All of sudden, there is a whole army of them!

Your heart almost stops at the powerful sight before you–an entire army of unbelievable beings resplendent with brilliance.

And then your ears begin to ring with the sound of their song filling the night air.

Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains.
And the mountains in reply echo back their joyous strains.

When I learned that both Anita & Amy Jo and Cody had picked out “Angels We Have Heard on High” as a song for today, I decided to look at Luke 2:13-14 to see what those angels sang about and see if it wasn’t what we needed to hear today.  I think it was.

What do angels sound like when they sing?

What does a regiment of angels sound like when they sing?

What does a legion of angels sound like when they sing?

What in the world does an army of angels sound like when they raise their voices together in mighty praise?

I don’t know...but I can’t wait to find out!

And even more important than the sight or the sound is the significance of what they are saying:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

The angels broke forth in a magnificent song explaining what the birth of Jesus Christ was all about.

The angels’ song was about the meaning–the significance–of Christmas.

It’s not about toys or gifts or Santa or stockings or trees or shopping or supper or cookies or wrapping or presents or even family!  It’s not even about the angels who were so amazing to the shepherds that night.

According to the angels’ song, Christmas is fundamentally about two things: glory and peace.

Glory and peace.

The angel we have heard on high sing about glory and peace.

Luke chapter 2, verse 14: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

The angels’ song proclaimed that the birth of this baby boy in Bethlehem brought (#1) glory to God in heaven–the highest place in all the universe.

As they say in Latin, “Gloria In Excelsis Deo.”  Glory to God in the highest.

I have a question for you this morning: What is glory?

Kids, at the dinner table today, ask your parents to define glory for you in terms that you can understand.

What is glory?

Glory is a hard word to define.

Glory is easier to describe than to define.

It’s one of those words that you-know-it-when-you-see-it.

But how do you define it?

Here’s one way: It’s the beautiful greatness of God.

And saying, “glory to God” is announcing, proclaiming, declaring that God is amazingly great.

The Old Testament Hebrew word for glory is “Kavod.”

And it literally meant, “heavy.”

Like we say, “heavy, man.”

That’s awesome.

Rulers in the ancient world were the best fed. And the best fed got what? Heavy, right?

So, if you were great. Then you were great.

You had weight if you were great.

Kavod!

One of the things I like to pray for my kids is that Jesus would be BIG in their life.

I think that gets across this idea.

I pray that Jesus would be BIG in your life.

Or we could use the word “credit.”

We love the credits at the end of movie now.

Who gets the credit?

Who gets the BIGGEST credit?

Glory is credit.

To glory in something is to exult it so that it is BIG in your heart.

We see people glory when they enjoy a great football game or whatever you like.

They jump up and down, they yell, they sing, they raise their arms.  They do a little dance.

They glory. Something is big in their heart.

Glory, praise, magnification be to God in the highest.

The angels knew that something GLORIOUS, something tremendously great had happened on that first Christmas night.

And it took a whole army of angels to say it like it needed said.

Glory to God in the Highest!

Very often, you and I make the mistake of thinking that Christmas was all about us.  (And it was about us as we shall see in a second.)  But first and always foremost, we must recognize that everything exists for God’s glory–no less Christmas.

Christmas is all about the glory of God.

Christmas was the supreme revelation of God to humankind.
Christmas was God speaking to Man in the only language He really understands: the language of flesh and bones and blood.
Christmas was God’s passion for His glory breaking into this dark world to invade it with the Kingdom of His beloved Son.
Christmas was about God sending an atoning sacrifice for sins so that both God’s mercy and justice would be magnified in the salvation of sinners.
Christmas was and always will be first and foremost about GOD.

Angels we have heard on high sing: “Glory to God in the highest!”

Let me challenge you, this year, to make your Christmas all about the glory of God.

Make this year:

- a Christmas of worship
- a Christmas of praise
- a Christmas of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others
- a Christmas of giving in Jesus’ name to people who can’t give back to you
- a Christmas of focus on a close life-changing relationship with Christ
- a Christmas of glory to God in the highest!

AND...(secondly) the angels we have heard on high sang about PEACE.

Luke 2:14: “and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

The angels’ song proclaimed that Christmas was also about peace.

The Prince of Peace had been born in Bethlehem.

You need to know that peace (in the Bible) is more than just the absence of conflict.

Peace in the Bible is a wholeness, a wellness, a rightness in relationships.  The Hebrew word is “Shalom.”

Peace is not just “I’m not mad at him.”  Peace is “He and I are right with one another.  We are reconciled.  We are together.  Everything is okay between us.”

And Jesus was born to bring that kind of peace.

To whom?  V.14 “Peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

I used to think that Jesus brings peace to all men.  But the NIV renders this verse perfectly, I think: “Peace to men on whom God’s favor rests.”

That means that Jesus brings peace to those:

- Whom God has chosen.
- Peace to the children of God.
- Peace to those who have exercised faith in Jesus Christ.

The saying is right: “No Jesus, No Peace.  Know Jesus, Know Peace.”

The angels Hear the Angels Sing: “On earth peace to men on whom [God’s] favor rests.”

Jesus brings (essentially) three kinds of peace.

The first is the foremost: Peace with God. [slide #5]

If you are not a trusting follower of Jesus Christ this morning, you are at war with God.  Let me say that again.  If you are not a trusting follower of Jesus Christ this morning, you are at war with God.

You may say that you don’t feel hate towards God.  But the Bible reveals the true nature of our hearts.  It says that those who reject the Son of God reject God the Father, as well.  You are His enemy.

And if you are at war with God, you are going to lose.

John 3:36 says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him.”

But Hear the song of these angels!  Peace is now possible between you and God.  The baby born in Bethlehem was born to die as a ransom for our sinful rebellion.

1 Peter 3:18:  “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”

Come to Christ this morning. Lay down your weapons and surrender to the Prince of Peace.

Maybe your heart has been prepared for this morning. This is your morning of decision.  This is the day that Christ becomes King in your life.

Decide now to trust Him.  Tell Him that you are sorry that you’ve sinned against Him and now want to belong to Him.  And He will not reject you.  He will receive you with open arms and bring you peace.

Romans 5:1 says those who are Christians now have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Is that you?  Become a trusting follower of Jesus Christ today.

The second kind of peace Jesus brings is peace with others. [slide #6]

This world is full of conflict.  Just watch the evening news and you’ll see that.  But Jesus’ birth brought powerful resources into this world to bring peace between sinful human beings.

Jesus has made it possible, so we need, by faith, to make it actual.

Are you living at peace with others this Christmas?

So often, it boils down to forgiveness.

Christmas is about being forgiven.  And being forgiven unleashes an amazing power within us to forgive others.

Is there someone you are in conflict with this Christmas? Make it right with them.

As much as it depends upon you, take advantage of Jesus’ peace and take Jesus’ peace to them.

The third kind of peace Jesus brings to those on whom God’s favor rests is inner peace.

Inner peace is basically the absence of fear.

If you are right with God, what place does fear have in your heart?

If God is for you, who can be against you?
If God is your helper, what can man do to you?
If God is at peace with you, what is worth worrying about?

The angel’s sweetly singing over the plains say that peace with God can be yours in Christ.  And if you have that then you have nothing to fear.

1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

What are you afraid of?

Cast it upon the One the angels sang about on the first Christmas morning.

“Glory to God in the highest [live for God’s glory this Christmas] and on earth peace [...with God, with others, without fear...peace] to men on whom [God’s] favor rests.”

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Deb Welch Reviews "Resisting Gossip"

Deb Welch has named Resisting Gossip to her top 20 books of 2013 and double starred it as part of her top 10 at her blog All Things New.

Deb has also posted a strongly encouraging review on GoodReads.

She notes some of the reasons why teaching on gossip has gotten a bad rap in our day and ends with a comparison of Resisting Gossip to Paul Miller's A Praying Life. In the middle, Deb shares her evaluation of the book and how it influenced her:
Into the void, steps Matt Mitchell with his thoroughly biblical handling, pastoral care, and positively convicting message. This is the kind of book that when one finishes reading, it is impossible to be the same again. The beginning part of the book helped me to grow in my understanding of my own sinful heart, putting aside my self-justification and rationalization. But alongside that positively convicting heart surgery, Matt's approach is truly to move toward walking in light and truth -- not for us to dwell in the spirit of condemnation. This book has completely changed my perspective on how I view, speak about and write about other believers, and the church.
Thanks, Deb! I'm so glad to hear that you found it biblical, helpful, and encouraging.

Black Eyed Susan (Dead)



Poor Susan with the black eyes, for she is dead.

Friday, December 20, 2013

"A Gallery of Gossips" in the Journal of Biblical Counseling

The latest issue of The Journal of Biblical Counseling (27:3) is now available.

It includes an article adapted from chapter 3 of Resisting Gossip entitled "A Gallery of Gossips." [Preview, Purchase]

In his lead-off editorial "Changing Seasons," David Powlison writes:
As I refect on our table of contents for this issue, I am struck by how many ways the brokenness of the human condition afects daily life. We gossip, we feel anxious because of unrealistic expectations, we are perfectionistic, we struggle with wayward
sexuality, we do not understand our own motives.
I am equally struck by God's provision for us. His proverbs offer accessible practical help. The words of God in Genesis teach us how our written words can have the power to bless others. God lays bare the tendency of the human heart to worship idols so that he might give grace to restore us to himself. God-given, practical wisdom helps us to think well about complex pastoral questions.
Let me introduce these articles to you.
We begin with "A Gallery of Gossips" by Matt Mitchell. We’ve all been guilty of talking about others. Stories about other people titillate us, tempting us to pass the story on to the next person. Mitchell helpfully identifies five common types of gossips. He explores the potential motivations of each, and pinpoints how the gospel of Christ provides an escape from the temptation to gossip. Come at this article humbly, as you just may see yourself in one (or more!) of these types of gossips.
I'm excited to dig into the other articles. As usual, the JBC looks to be a treasure trove.

***

Being in the JBC is a check off on the "bucket list" for me as I've had an aspiration to a contributor for about as long as I've known about it's existence (more than a dozen years). It's a joy to be listed in the table of contents today. Thanks to David Powlison, Kim Monroe, Lauren Whitman for including and working with me. And thanks to Dave Almack, Tracey Lewis-Giggets and the team at CLC for giving permission for this material to be used in the JBC.

365 Straight Days of Blogging

Today marks my 365th day of uninterrupted blogging here at Hot Orthodoxy.

I still have a couple of weeks to go to do a full year in 2013, a goal I set out early this year, but I have posted a least one (hopefully valuable) thing each day now for the last 365. I expect that my frequency will go back down a bit in 2014--I don't want to continue to be the slave of the blog or the calendar--but I hope to keep saying things that are worthwhile to readers.

Thank you, dear friends, for joining me here this last year to think more deeply about connections between head, heart, and life for a follower of Christ.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mark Lauterbach's TGC Review of "Resisting Gossip"

Veteran pastor Mark Lauterbach has reviewed Resisting Gossip at the Gospel Coalition book review site.

Mark was one of my critical readers who initially helped develop the manuscript. He didn't give very many points of evaluation back then, but the ones he did were extremely valuable. For example, Mark suggested that you can't "gossip-proof a church" (my original title for the bonus chapter for church leaders) which led me to change that section to the much more realistic goal (though hard enough!) of cultivating "gossip resistant" churches.

In his TGC review, Mark begins with how the book struck him personally as a "needed surprise," then evaluates it as a tool for gospel-centered discipleship and as an "ounce of prevention:"
Resisting Gossip is also useful for pastors, as an ounce of prevention, in equipping their flocks to preserve unity. The unity of the Spirit is a precious thing, for by it we display the reality of Christ. The unity of the Spirit is also a fragile thing, however. Gossip kills unity. It creates suspicions, diminishes trust, and questions motives. It frays the fabric of unity, and does so invisibly at first. But when conflict goes public, the prejudice and judgments of the heart created and fed by gossip will add fuel to the fires. The fabric will tear.
He goes on to suggest 3 areas for further exploration that he says Resisting Gossip addresses in principle but still need a much wider discussion of particular implications and applications. I thoroughly agree!

Mark's conclusion:
Gossip is not a small issue. Loose lips have sunk ships, ruined reputations, and destroyed the unity of local congregations. Protecting each other’s good name is a mark of Christ’s love, and giving diligence to preserve the unity he created means killing gossip. This book will be helpful in pursuing these things.
Thanks, Mark. I certainly hope so!

Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"Resisting Gossip" in Kevin DeYoung's Top Ten Books of 2013

Kevin DeYoung, a pastor, prolific author, and blogger, has included Resisting Gossip in his top ten books of 2013.

I am joyfully honored and humbled, especially because I have high regard for DeYoung's opinions, especially about theological/ministry books!

He writes:
This list is not meant to assess the thousands of Christian books published each year, let alone every interesting book published in 2013. I read a lot of books, but there are plenty of worthy titles that I never touch (and never hear of). This is simply a list of the books (Christian and non-Christian, but all non-fiction) that I thought were the best in the past year.
When I say “best” I have several questions in mind:
•    Was this book well written and enjoyable to read?
•    Did I find it personally challenging, illuminating, edifying, or entertaining?
•    Is it a book I am likely to reread or consult often?
•    Do I see myself frequently recommending this book to others?
The books that score well in all categories are “best” and make their way on Top Ten lists.
And then he offers this highly encouraging assessment (see screen-capture below):

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"Resisting Gossip" in Joe Valenti's Top Ten Books of 2013

Blogger, musician, and pastor Joe Valenti has included Resisting Gossip as #4 in his top ten books of 2013.

He says:

The top 4 choices were a close call. All of these are excellent. This is one of the few books this year that was so helpful that I wrote a full review. My youth group is currently passing this around so much that I have lost track of who has it. See my full review HERE.
Thanks, Joe! You are a mega-encourager.