Book Review: Exalting Jesus in Ecclesiastes

ecclesisatesExalting Jesus in Ecclesiastes (Christ-Centered Exposition) by Daniel L. Akin and Jonathan Akin is a superbly written examination of Solomon’s exposition on the vanity of life “under the sun.”

The authors stay true to the context of the book (and its rather depressing content due to its examination of an earth-centered worldview) while also demonstrating how Ecclesiastes points its reader to lift their eyes unto the heavens and ultimately to Christ as the one in whom all fulfillment in found.

An excellent point made through the exposition of the Old Testament book is the way Solomon points the reader to God giving much on this earth for pleasure, but how those pleasures are not ends unto themselves (which only leads to vanity) but shadows of the true eternal soul-satisfying enjoyment found in Jesus.

Disclosure: I received this book free from B& H Publishing Group through the B&H/Lifeway Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

ASSESSING OUR AWARENESS OF GOD’S PRESENCE (PART 2)

sky wonder

It is one thing to mentally know the wonderful benefits and taste of a freshly brewed cup of coffee created with freshly roasted beans combined with perfectly heated water that is allowed to sit for the right amount of time for maximum flavor and minimum bitterness and quite another to actually savor the experience personally.  It is also one thing to have such a lovely cup of coffee every now and then and another thing to be experienced in crafted and savoring such a brew yourself on a regular basis.

The differences in experiences is vast. One is merely head knowledge and the other is actual experience; and one is occasional awareness and the other is experienced practiced awareness.

Too often Christians fall into the category of theological mental awareness or occasional awareness of the presence of God. Too often Christians find themselves in the gap of being aware of the presence of God in daily life is something quite biblical and a sign of spiritual health (take a look at Part 1 for more on that topic) and practically living in the presence of God on a regular and daily basis.

In his book Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, Donald Whitney gives some helpful pointers for moving beyond mental knowledge to actual awareness of the presence of the Person of God on a regular basis:

What we are told to do is (1) seek Him through His Word, or (2) seek Him through experiences that are founded on His Word, or (3) seek Him through daily life in ways that are informed by His Word…When we seek the presence of God mediated – directly or indirectly – through Scripture, we are not imagining God as we would like Him to be. The basis of our experience with God is God-revealed truth, not our individual, idiosyncratic opinions about God. We are then much more likely to sense the presence of God as He really is rather than as a God comprised of our preferences. (And, incidentally, we are less likely to spout the motto of those who have made God into what they want Him to be: “My God isn’t like that!”) (pp 60-61).

But my experience of God must go beyond just knowing He is present, closer than my own breath, nearer than my own skin. The Bible also tells me of the character of the God who is present. So I know that I am to seek to experience a God who is not merely present, but holy. And I know that He is merciful and patient and enjoys having me talk with Him. I know there is One keeping company with me at this (and every) moment…and who loves me beyond my comprehension. I know that the One whose presence surrounds me as the universe surrounds the earth has all power and is bringing all the world to His appointed conclusion. I perceive the presence of the One who has been an earthbound man like me and understands me thoroughly, and before whom I will stand in judgment. I engage the One who gave His life – from His first breath in Bethlehem to His last heartbeat on Calvary – to atone for my sins and who rose again to bring me to His heavenly home.

This is very different from seeking the presence of a virtually unknown god, a god about whom nothing is clear, distinct, or known. That would lead me to seek an experience rather than a Person, or else not be able to distinguish a Person from a presence (pp 61-62).

What practical steps can we take to grow in our awareness of the continuous presence of God?

Go often to the place where God has revealed Himself most clearly – the Bible…Shouldn’t we expect to experience God’s presence primarily by means of that which He gave explicitly for the purpose of making Himself known to us: His Word? But don’t simply read from the Bible, close it, then walk away. Absorb the water of the Word of God through meditation. Otherwise, what you have read may be like rain that evaporates on a sidewalk. Linger over something from it so that it percolates into the soil of our soul. Listen long enough until you hear it for what it is – the voice of God.

Acknowledge His presence with you by talking with Him…When a person’s prayer life is decaying by silence, is it any wonder that he or she feels unaware of the nearness of God? God is a real Person who is very present. Ignore Him and He will seem distant. Talk with Him and you will almost always feel Him closer…Countless people have testified that praying from God’s Word brings them into the presence of God as never before. Praying this way makes prayer more what it ought to be, namely, a real conversation with a real Person.

Seek Him in the manifestations of His presence given only in congregational worship…While there are experiences with God that are given only in private worship, it is equally true that the Lord manifests His presence in ways unique to public worship.

Continually reaffirm the truth that He is omnipresent…We need to develop the sensitivity to see evidence of what we know to be true, namely, that God is with us. Look for God everywhere and in everything. Say to yourself often, “The Lord is here,” especially in the ordinary places of life (pp 65-67).

Assessing Our Awareness of God’s Presence (Part 1)

sky wonder

“How often are you aware of the presence of God?”

This question posed by Donald Whitney in Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health is certain to provoke a range or reactions.

For some people walls of fear fly up due to images of some more flamboyant worship styles or self-proclaimed “prophets” claiming to have a special word from God (just for you, of course). For such people the question itself is dangerous and send them into a world of cessationist-like apologetics.

For others, the question gets a response of “all the time” and then we get dramatic stories of regular encounters with God…and maybe (in really ugly cases) an implicit or explicit attitude that questions anyone’s salvation who doesn’t have similar regular Acts-like experiences.

Then there are those who simply respond with a deer-in-the-headlights look wondering what is even meant by the question. Often these are those who have thought of Christianity or religion as simply about a kind of moralistic living and rituals one “ought to do.” The idea of a personal God may be part of their sound theology but the actual practice of engaging God in a truly personal way has been conceptual in their daily life.

Of course that leaves those who would then talk about engaging God on a personal level and being aware of His presence practically in their lives. This group likely doesn’t go to the Acts-like dramatic level of describing their life with Christ (though there may be something like that sprinkled in every so often in their life). These people probably fall on a spectrum of awareness from “rarely” to “it used to be a lot but not so much now” to “a few times a week” to “regularly.”

Where would you say that you fall if you were to be asked, “How often are you aware of the presence of God?”

Consider your response and then take some time to consider Whitney’s contemplation about the question he posed in his book:

How often are you aware of the presence of God? If we take the teaching of the Bible seriously, perception of the presence of God should not be an occasional experience. I do not mean that we should frequently feel a supernatural presence, for that can be extremely unreliable. Nevertheless, it should not be unusual for us, wherever we are, to recognize that “God is here.” As we grow closer to Him, generally speaking, we should discern His immanence more readily and more often (p 56).

Apparently, many professing Christians identify more with the words of Jacob “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16) than with the promise of Jesus when He said, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20)…

What will result from a true Christian’s dullness to God’s company? For one thing, it necessarily means thinking less often of God, His Word, and His will. This is not a great deal different than an unbeliever who rarely thinks of God…That leads to thinking less of restraining sin on the one hand, or of doing good on the other (p 57).

In effect, living apart from a conscious sense that the Lord is present is to live as though God really is not there. Ore pleasure is sought in things, dreams, or people than in God. A relationship with God is reduced to mere religion. The spiritual disciplines devolve into mere duty or even legalism. Public worship becomes and obligation, not a privilege. Obviously, this is not the profile of a growing Christian (p 58).

I do not want to imply that to be growing spiritually means you must consistently increase your awareness of the presence of God. You can be growing when you least sense intimacy with the Lord.

In the first place, I doubt that any Christian grows more aware of God’s presence every day and steadily for the rest of his life. That denies the realities of living as a sinner in a fallen world. Second, it is common for believers to have many seasons where, for their own spiritual good, God actually withdraws a conscious sense of His presence. The puritans referred to such occasions as “God’s desertions,” times when we feel as though God has forgotten and forsaken us. But even though God’s presence is not perceived, He is no less near…

It’s one thing to long for a sense of God’s presence while not experiencing it, and another to live routinely with no awareness of His absence. There is a world of difference between Jesus crying out from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46), and Samson saying just before his capture, “’I will go out as before, at other times,’…but he did not know that the Lord had departed from him (Judges 16:20). One is known by its agony, the other by its apathy. Though you may be progressing in Christlikeness and persevering in the will of God, yet all along unaware that God is with you, take care that you do not become Samsonlike, content with or conditioned to life apart from a sense of His blessing (pp 63-64).

Husbands: Lead Strongly & Sacrificially

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As husbands we are called to lead our households.

In today’s culture there may be pushback because husbands who take a strong lead have been portrayed as chauvinistic or abusive by popular media sources. In some sad cases there have been men who have acted in ungodly and sinful ways when leading and those situations should be condemned. But we must also avoid the fallacy of allowing the abuses of some to become an excuse not to lead.

Instead, husbands must fight their sinful nature of passivity and laziness in order to lead well. One could argue that the first sinful act in the Garden of Eden was Adam’s failure to lead strongly and instead choosing to act in passive cowardice by not stepping in to tell off the Serpent and tell Eve to not eat the fruit when she was being tempted (Genesis 3:1-7). Take a look: Adam “was with her” at the time of the temptation (3:7). Adam may have thought he was being loving towards his wife by not exercising godly leadership, but his choice of inaction resulted in sin entering the world and their spiritual death.  That is the epitome of being unloving – knowing that someone’s actions would result in dramatically bad results and choosing to do nothing.

Husbands, let us stop living by the passive and unloving life and thought patterns of Adam. Let us take on the role of leaders of our household as depicted by Jesus Christ – strong, sacrificial leaders. In Ephesians 5:23-33 husbands are called to emulate Christ by leading the household in the same way that Jesus leads the church – through sacrificial love with a view towards the ultimate good of the household.

As Christ endured pain in the short term for the greater good in the long term, husbands need to look beyond their own temporary desires or pleasure and endure hardship for the ultimate good of the household.  As Christ gives us what we need for our ultimate health and not always what we want (and hears about it through our complaining prayers and “silent treatments” towards him), husbands need to sacrifice temporary comfort for the greater good in their loving leadership of the family.

Ultimately, the Bible points out that the strong, sacrificially loving leadership of Jesus results in glory and joy for all parties involved. By following Christ’s model of leading strongly and sacrificially in love, husbands can trust that the short term pain of putting to death their own passivity and any resulting interpersonal discomfort in the household will eventually lead to greater joy and love in the long term for the entire household.

Book Review: The ReWired Brain

rewiredThe Rewired Brain: Free Yourself of Negative Behaviors and Release Your Best Self by Dr. Ski Chilton gives insight into the inner workings and wiring of the human brain as it relates to our intrapersonal and interpersonal interactions. If a person in interested in the hardwiring of the mind and the plasticity of the brain, the book will provide insightful information.

As to the actual rewiring of the brain, the author does a good job of showing that it is possible, though only a proportionally few pages of the book itself are given to how this hope can be realized. If a reader is looking into a helpful guide into practically engaging in the process of having a “rewired brain” and how to utilize the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit in that process, the reader should probably look elsewhere.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers http://www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Book Review: The Temple and the Tabernacle

temple tabernacleThe Temple and the Tabernacle: A Study of God’s Dwelling Places from Genesis to Revelation by J. Daniel Hays is a colorful guide to God’s habitation with humanity throughout the Scriptures. The book gives a nice snapshot of the cultures during the Old Testament and New Testament times and a biblical view of God’s interaction with humanity during those times.

Overall, the book gives some good insights and descriptions into the various elements of the dwelling places. In particular, the drawing out of the differences between God’s interaction with Moses in the details of the Tabernacle and God’s interaction with Solomon in the construction of the Temple were intriguing.  On the other hand, the author did seem to have a bit of a preoccupation with the cherubim throughout the book which seemed a bit out of place at times.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers http://www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.