Tuesday Books: ‘The Great Forgetting’ (James Renner)

Since watching Amazon’s “The Man In the High Castle”, a series based on a book by the same title, I have become more and more aware of stories that fit into the alternate history genre. Simply put, the storyline revolves around something taking place in history that did not actually take place. It is essentially a ‘what if…’ story. What if Kenedy wasn’t shot (Stephen King’s book ’11/22/63′)? What if Germany won WWII (‘The Man in the High Castle’ and ‘The Great Forgetting’, see below)? If you want to know more about this genre, you can check out the Wikipedia page, or for a list of books, check out Uchronia (I plan on reading some books off of their list).

‘The Great Forgetting’ by James Renner is a book from the alternate history genre. It is the story of a man looking for his friend who has been missing for over three years. When he starts visiting with the patient that his friend was treating before his disappearance, he begins to suspect that something very strange is going on. As he continues to search out the truth, the web of lies grows even more and more tangled. Before long, he realizes that he is one the verge of discovering the largest cover up in human history, aptly referred to as ‘The Great Forgetting.’ The challenge then becomes what to do about it: let people continue in their blissful ignorance or wake them up to the harsh truth? I don’t want to give too much away, so you will have to read the book to get more!

I enjoyed the idea of this book. I may have enjoyed the idea more than I enjoyed the actual book, but I did enjoy reading it. The plot is a bit slow at times and I struggled finding a character that I really liked, but overall I enjoyed the book. The alternate history part was fun and some of the way that he used real people in the alternate reality was interesting (like Stephen Hawking and D. B. Cooper). The ending sets the stage for a follow-up (maybe ‘The Great Remembering’?) and I would read that. It definitely makes me want to read more in this genre. Interesting stuff.



Tuesday Books: ‘Hey, Jack! The Big Adventure’ (Sally Rippin) and ‘You Choose’ (Sharatt and Goodhart)

My son’s school is encouraging reading this week. His teacher let my wife and I go and read to the class today. I am thankful that being a pastor allows me to do things like that! So today I got to read a couple of books to the 2nd grade. Here’s what I chose:

1. Hey, Jack! The Big Adventure: There are several books in the ‘Hey, Jack!’ series. This one tells the story of Jack going camping with his family to the beach. He wants to have an adventure, so in disobedience to his parents, he wanders into a cave and gets stuck when the tide comes in. SPOILER: He survives by getting his dog (not named Lassie) to help rescue him. Moral of the story for second graders: if you disobey your parents you will drown in a dark, scary cave! (Just kidding, or am I????)

2. You Choose: The second book I read is a conversation starting book. Each page allows the kids to choose what they want, which will hopefully get them talking about why they would choose a certain thing. For example, one page asks what job they would choose (the page is filled with pictures of people working all kinds of different jobs). When the kid answers you can talk with them about why they would want that particular job. The kids really liked this one and gave some funny answers!


It was a fun time reading to the kids and hopefully they enjoyed the books (Quick commercial, both of the above books are Usborne books that my wife sells). My hope is that each of those second graders will grow into adults who love good books! Maybe they could read my blog on Tuesdays!!


Tuesday Books: ‘Exalting Jesus in Ezra and Nehemiah’ (James M. Hamilton)

I will be starting a new series through the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther in a few weeks at my church. Preparing for this always involves purchasing some new commentaries. I have different reasons for selecting which commentaries I will use: I want at least one that is technical and one more devotional, I like certain authors, and I like certain commentary series (Pillar, Reformed Expository, New International Commentary, etc.) It is the last reason that led me to purchase ‘Exalting Jesus in Ezra and Nehemiah’ by James Hamilton, who is currently teaching at Southern Seminary (they have some exceptional graduates who write great blog posts). I was drawn to this commentary because it is in the relatively new (2013) series called “Christ-Centered Exposition.” What makes this series different? The editors (David Platt, Daniel L. Akin, and Tony Merida) write in the preface:

“Finally, as the name suggest, the editors seek to exalt Jesus from every book of the Bible. In saying this, we are not commending wild allegory or fanciful typology (always good to avoid those, wm). We certainly believe we must be constrained to the meaning intended by the divine Author Himself, the Holy Spirit of God. However, we also believe the Bible has a messianic focus, and our hope is that the individual authors will exalt Christ from particular texts…Therefore, our aim is both to honor the historical particularity of each biblical passage and to highlight its intrinsic connection to the Redeemer.”

I love this approach. I know that other commentaries I have read do a good job of pointing the reader to Christ from most passages, but I am excited about a series that seeks to do that with every passage. As a preacher, I hope to do this each and every time I get into the pulpit. It is not enough to simply draw moral lessons from the text, we have to see what it says about Christ. If I am not doing that then I am not preaching as faithfully as I should. Thus, I want to study and learn and teach what Genesis and Exodus and Leviticus teach us about Jesus, how they point us to the Savior. I am really looking forward to diving into Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther to learn the same. I believe Hamilton’s work will help me in that effort.


Tuesday Books: ‘Crimson Shore’ (Preston and Child)

I have not read much fiction so far this year, but just checked out the latest Pendergast novel from Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child from the local library. Although this is the fifteenth novel in the series and things tend to start getting repetitive and predictable at that point, I am enjoying this story so far. The plot is interesting, beginning with the theft of a wine collection in a small town on the coast of Maine (I love Maine!), progressing to activities much more sinister (which I guess depends upon your affection for expensive wine). As usual, Pendergast is great. His dealings with the local sheriff are particularly enjoyable in this novel. Of course, there is history in the old town that has led to the current crimes and Pendergast and his ward, Constance (who is like 150 years old but looks like a twenty-something year old girl…long story) must put all the pieces together to figure out what is going on and catch the killers (oh and maybe recover some of the wine).

I still think Pendergast is one of my favorite modern fiction characters. Preston and Child have done a great job developing his story and it is always great to read of his new antics. I think they remain true to his character while finding interesting ways for him to act and respond in each new novel. Sherlock Holmes meets James Bond meets Dr. House, all with a New Orleans’ accent! Good stuff. Looking forward to seeing how he solves the latest mystery, confident it will be enjoyable.


Tuesday Books: FREE BOOKS!

I am a lover of free books. Especially when they are really good free books. For this reason (and a few others), I always enjoy attending Together for the Gospel. At each gathering they give away 15-20 really good books, which almost covers the price of admission to the conference, which is also really great. If you are in the ministry then I encourage you to try and attend.

And this year they are also giving away some free books before the conference (I think they did this a couple years ago as well). You can register for the giveaway here: T4G Giveaway. (Full disclosure, if you sign up by following that link then I get more entries into the contest as well….can’t blame a guy for wanting free books). They are giving away some volumes from the Christ Centered Exposition commentary set (pictured above), as well as a copy of the HCSB Study Bible. And if I understand it correctly, you don’t have to attend the conference to enter the giveaway, so even if you can’t attend you can still (maybe) get some free books. Not a bad deal!


Tuesday Books: ‘The Faithful Preacher’ (Thabiti Anyabwile)

In honor of Martin Luther King Day yesterday, I wanted to point you to one of the few books that I have that deals with the often neglected area of Church history, namely the history of the African-American Church. Thabiti Anyabwile (I am still working on pronouncing his last name) has written a book on three pastors who come from that tradition: Lemuel Haynes, Daniel Payne, and Francis Grimke. The lives of these men span from the 18th to the 20th century and provide an interesting glimpse into the history of the black church in America. If you are interested in this part of Church history, then Anyabwile’s book would be a good place to start.


Tuesday Books: Books that promote the sanctity of human life

Sunday is ‘Sanctity of Human Life Sunday’ and many Churches will be celebrating God’s gracious gift of life and promoting ministries that labor in the fight for life in our communities. In light of that, I thought I would spend the week focusing on resources that aid us in valuing life and joining in the fight.

Today, my focus is on books. I want to give a list of books that have encouraged and shaped my understanding of this issue. I am certain that there are many others, but these are the ones that have impacted me in various ways.

  1. Readings in Christian Ethics (David Clark and Robert Rakestraw) I took my first Christian ethics class in seminary and this was part of the required reading. We did not read the whole book (at least I don’t think we did), but I distinctly remember reading articles by various authors concerning the issue of abortion. I remember being surprised at the differing opinions on this subject. It exposed me to some of the approaches people take concerning abortion and helped me better understand how to respond.
  2. Adopted By God (Robert Peterson) Before my wife and I were married, while I was still teaching classes at my former Church, I led a class through this book. It is an extensive study on our spiritual adoption into the family of God through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. He used several stories of physical adoption that helped me see the parallels between the two (referring to them as ‘spiritual’ and ‘physical’ adoption is perhaps not accurate since they both involve aspects of the other, but the labels help us distinguish the two).
  3. Culture Shift (Albert Mohler) Mohler has greatly influenced my thinking on abortion and this is a good place to start in hearing his arguments. (I will point to his blog later in the week).
  4. Counter Culture (David Platt) I have referenced this book before and I wanted to draw your attention to it again. Platt has two chapters involving issues of life (one on abortion and one on orphan and widow care) and they are both helpful resources. We must be ‘against the world’ in our thinking about life. Platt writes to show us how this might look in our individual lives and in our churches.
  5. Adopted for Life (Russell Moore) Perhaps the best book on adoption that I am aware of. If you are even thinking about this topic, then I encourage you to read it. Maybe the best endorsement I can give it is to confess to weeping through most of it. On a few occasions I have had to sit books down to simply take in the gravity of what is being said and wrestle with my own heart or just cry out to God in praise and thanksgiving, this is one of those books. Dr. Moore also edited “A Guide to Adoption and Orphan Care”, which is a great practical guide for how to get started in these important ministries.

Again, this is a brief list, but I encourage you to read more about the sanctity of human life. Find a way to join the fight!


Tuesday Books: ‘Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion’ (Os Guinness)

Part of the reason why sharing the gospel can be so difficult is that we have forgotten how to talk. At least, we have lost the art of conversation. We are still realizing all of the implications of social media, but perhaps one of them is our struggle to sit face to face with another person (I mean, who does that right) and have an honest conversation about things that matter. Our fear of the ‘incredibly awkward moment when you don’t know what else to say’ has crippled us and surely limited our evangelism.

For this reason (and other equally important ones), Os Guinness has written the book ‘Fool’s Talk.’ It is the latest book that I am reading with my pastor friends and I have really enjoyed it thus far. Here are some memorable excerpts from the first couple of chapters:

Guinness explains how Christian Persuasion is informed by the gospel:

“True to the biblical understanding of creation, Christian persuasion must always take account of the human capacity for reason and the primacy of the human heart.

True to the understanding of the fall, Christian persuasion must always take account of the anatomy of an unbelieving mind in its denial of God.

True to the incarnation, Christian persuasion always has to be primarily person-to-person and face-to-face, and not argument to argument, formula to formula, media to media or methodology to methodology.

True to the cross of Jesus, Christian persuasion has to be cross-shaped in its manner just as it is cross-centered in its message—which as we shall see, lies behind the choice of the title of this book: Fool’s Talk.

And true to the Holy Spirit, Christian persuasion must always know and show that the decisive power is not ours but God’s. For God is his own lead counsel, his own best apologist, and the one who challenges the world to “set out your case.” And as Jesus tells us, his Spirit, the Spirit of truth, is the one who does the essential work of convincing and convicting.”

On the truth that there is no ‘one size fits all’ method for sharing the gospel:

“As we need to remind ourselves again and again, and then again, Jesus never spoke to two people the same way, and neither should we. Every single person is unique and individual and deserves an approach that respects that uniqueness.”

On the necessity for every Christian to learn the art of Christian persuasion:

“God forbid that we ever see the day when we have a guild of apologist experts to provide all our public answers for us, and who will prescribe every argument we must use or not use—if only we knew how to do it as skillfully as they do. Christian persuasion is a task for all Christians, not just the expert few; and a task to be done, not merely talked about.”

And on the need for love:

“Yet the Christian persuasion we are exploring here is not for salesmen, propagandists, proselytizers, PR consultants, lobbyists, press officers, spin doctors, damage control experts and the like. It is not enough to share our faith out of guilt or social pressure or a desire to compete with rivals for cultural influence in today’s world. There are more than enough consultants to cater to those with such motives. This book is for those who desire to share the way of Jesus because of their love for Jesus, and who know that love is also a key part of any human being’s search for knowledge and truth.”

Good stuff!  I have only begun to read this book, but I am already looking forward to what it will say next!


Tuesday Books: ‘The Great Christ Comet’ (Colin R. Nicholl)

On Sunday night, during our Advent celebration, we were celebrating the fact that Jesus is the Light of the world (John 8:12) who has come to rescue us from darkness and bring us into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). We sang the old hymn’We Three Kings of Orient Are,’ which tells the story of the Wise Men, or Magi, who came and brought gifts to Jesus. The chorus of the song describes how they found Him:

“O, Star of wonder, star of light

Star with royal beauty bright,

Westward leading, still proceeding,

Guide us to thy perfect light.”

According to Matthew 2:1-12, the Magi from the east followed a star to Jerusalem looking for the King of the Jews. When they asked Herod about this King, they said: “For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (v. 2). When Herod told them to go to Bethlehem due to Michah’s prophecy, they continued to follow the star “until it came to rest over the place where the child was.” What do we know about this star?

Truth is, I know very little. We sing songs about it, we put stars in our nativities and on top of our Christmas trees, and we read this story every year about the Wise Men being guided to Bethlehem by its light. I have watched movies about Jesus’ birth that often give some sort of explanation and maybe even sat through a History Channel special about it (that normally treats Matthew’s account like fiction). But to be honest, I have never given that much thought to the star of Bethlehem.

Apparently, that was true for Colin Nicholl until around seven years ago. He too watched a special about the star and was promoted to go back and actually take a hard look at Matthew 2. From there, he began a serious study about trying to discover as much as he could about the star. Based on Matthew’s description, he concluded that the star was a comet and from there began to study the scientific side of the mystery. His results have recently been published by Crossways in a book called “The Great Christ Comet” (which was given to me by a couple in our Church immediately after our service on Sunday night, who noted God’s providence over the situation!) Nicholl states his goal in writing the book:

“In this book I offer what I am convinced is the solution to the age-old mystery of the Star of Bethlehem. What I propose is rooted in a careful consideration of the relevant Biblical material and is, I believe, able to explain everything said about the Star in a natural and compelling way and in harmony with astronomical knowledge.”

His contention is that science has ignored theology and theology has ignored science when it comes to understanding the Star of Bethlehem. Thus, his goal was to try to bring together both disciplines and to be as faithful to both the text and science as he could be. Pretty good approach I think.

I have only read the forward, preface, and first chapter, but it is obvious that Nicholl has done his homework. Truth be told, I am a little intimidated when it comes to science and astronomy. But he wrote the book to be as readable and understandable as he could, so that gives me hope! When asked about the value of such research and study, Nicholl gave three reasons for the book in an article published in Charisma Magazine:

  1. It provides powerful evidence that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah.
  2. It attests to the fact that the Gospels are historically accurate.
  3. It underlines God’s claim to be Lord over the universe.

Those are some pretty good reasons! So, check it out. It may redefine the way you think of the star of wonder.


(HT: Thanks Doc and Cheryl for the great gift!)

Tuesday Books: Advent Selections

Advent begins today (Dec. 1st). It is a great time to spend reading with your kids about the birth of our Savior. And there are some great free resources to help you do just that! Let me list a few:

  1. “Behold the Lamb of God” (Russ Ramsey): This book of 25 devotions was inspired by Andrew Peterson’s ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ album (probably my favorite Christmas album). You can download the book for free today here: Behold the Lamb of God.
  2. “The Arrival of the Savior” (wm): I wrote these 25 devotions for my Church a few years back to help us celebrate Advent together. You can get them free here: The Arrival of the Savior.
  3. “Jesus Storybook Bible Advent Calendar”: If you have a copy of the ‘Jesus Storybook Bible’ (Sally Lloyd-Jones) then you can use this free Advent Calendar that coincides with some of the stories here: Jesus Storybook Bible Advent Calendar.
  4. “Solid Joys: Devotions for Advent” (John Piper): Piper is one of my all-time favorite authors and apparently you can get free devotions from him, particularly during the season of Advent: Solid Joys. I found some more from Piper for free here: The Dawning of Indestructible Joy.

I cannot encourage you enough to pick one of these free resources and celebrate the incarnation over these next 25 days. O come let us adore Him!


(I broke the routine and posted this early so you can pick your devotional and get started tonight!)