Helping Kids Pick Careers According To Conscience

The question put to kids growing up used to be: “What career would you like?”

But responsible Christian parents today will necessarily re-word the question to: “Biblical Christians will find their faith to be career-limiting. What career *can* you do with a clear conscience?

For example:

Can you in good conscience plan to enter a career in human resources with all the social-political agendas you’ll need to abide by (read: enforce)?

Can you in good conscience go into healthcare with the increased promotion of abortion and MAiD?

Our children are growing up in a strange new world, one where Christ and natural law is forsaken. It’s no longer what do you want to do, but what can you do?

Aptitudes and personalities are real, but our young people may not have the luxury of choice that other generations did for career path.

Young men in particular might do well to develop “hard skills” over “soft skills” (ie. trade, skillset, etc), even if it’s not their *thing*. But it is a noble thing “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands…” (1 Thess. 4:11).

This recalibrates our priorities for our children. Ultimately, we want our kids to grow up with a head full of biblical knowledge, a heart ablaze with love for God and fellow man, the ability to provide for himself/herself (and a family if a man) all the while striving to be a good citizen whose ultimate citizenship is in heaven.

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Review // A Commentary on The New Testament from the Talmud and Midrash (Lexham Academic)

Strack and Billerbeck’s Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Midrash is a colossal multi-volume reference work which illustrates the New Testament, verse-by-verse, with relevant rabbinic sources.

Hermann L. Strack (1848-1922) and Paul Billerbeck (1853-1932) were German scholars, trained in rabbincs and Judiasm. While Strack was more of a theologian, and Billerbeck was a Lutheran minister, together they co-authored this multi-volume work which has garnered a lot of attention over the years, both negative and positive.

Until this new republication from Lexham Academic, this resource was only available in the German language (Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch). But after careful translation and editorial work by Jacob N. Cerone, the commentary is now available in English.

The potential value of this resource is extraordinary, even as one recognizes the Jewish theological and cultural underpinnings of the Christian faith. But there is a risk of potential misuse: lazy scholarship.

By having such a rich collection of rabbinic quotations available, the reader can be tempted to “use Strack-Billerbeck as a key to New Testament interpretation or a summary of Jewish thought, when it is neither” (p. xxiv, Introduction to the English Translation). Instead of assuming bullseye conclusions from this commentary, the reader ought to view the material as a starting place of rabbinical considerations.

And yet, if used properly and with discretion, this commentary is a mighty tool whereby the reader is alerted to significant Jewish cultural and theological context for faithful Biblical exegesis.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Lexham Academic in exchange for an unbiased review.

Review // Kerux Commentaries: Colossions and Philemon

When I prepare to preach a sermon or lead a Bible study, I have my “go-to” commentaries that I trust for exegetical aid and then others for homiletical purposes. But I am glad to have discovered a newer line of commentaries that combines exegetical precision with creative preaching aids: the Kerux Commentaries.

The Kerux Commentaries are published by Kregel and are based on the “big idea” preaching model. They intentionally combine an experienced exegetical scholar with a homiletician as collaborative authors. What this provides is razor sharp exegesis and compelling creative communication tips. For those who want to deliver God’s word faithfully and winsomely, this is a staple resource.

I am leading our church youth group through Colossians and have been glad to have this commentary as a resource. I’ve noticed in my reading that there’s a lot of ink spilled on each verse, and it’s not fluff. The exegetical emphases are clear and compelling, even as it often draws conclusions based on the original Greek. I’m not usually one to mark up commentaries, but I find myself regularly clicking my pen to star, underline and circle parts that are exceptionally helpful. The preaching idea and preaching pointers connected to each passage are also rich and helpful for getting the creative juices flowing for making application to people today.

I’m thankful to Kregel for the complimentary review copy and though I’m not obligated to give a positive review, I just can’t help it. It’s a fabulous commentary, and I commend it to you.

Functional Athiesm When Life Is Full

Bible-believing, Christ-treasuring, God-fearing Christians are prone to unintentional functional athiesm when life gets full.

Many of us know what “at capacity” feels like. There are those seasons when the to-do list seems endless: financial pressures, household tasks, family dynamics, car maintenance, church responsibilities, job demands, and more.

When life gets full, it’s tempting for the Christian to de-prioritize the ordinary means of grace. Our brains might be buzzing with all the important things that demand our attention, that we forget or neglect our relationship with the Lord.

Functional Athiesm

Less Bible, less prayer, less devotion to Christ. Instead of loving God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind (Luke 10:27), our energies gravitate towards the tasks before us. The tyranny of the urgent often elevates important things to become ultimate things. To us, our task list becomes so big that our God becomes very small.

And though our doctrinal convictions haven’t changed, there is a change of priority in our hearts. The pressures of our current season have the potential to squeeze out the vitality of our faith in Christ. The furthest end of this can have the same result as the seed sown among the thorns: the cares of the world choke out the word (Mark 4:7,18-19) in a permanent sense. But at the very least, there can a degree of temporary functional athiesm.

The Christian can be functionally atheistic when we live as if Christ’s person and work has no bearing on our lives. In the busyness of a full season, we drift to self-sufficiency. There are things to do, and little time to do it, so we get going. But instead of walking by the Spirit, we actually live our lives according to the strong arm of the flesh.

Flesh vs. Spirit

We ought to chuckle at how much we depend on the strong arm of the flesh (cf. 2 Chron 32:8, Jer 17:5), because the Bible and personal experience show us how feeble it is. It’s quite strange that we would rely on our own mere strength, wisdom, and ability, when there are inexhaustible storehouses of grace (2 Cor 12:9), wisdom (James 1:5), and power (Phil 2:13) offered to us as we trust and walk with the Triune God.

As a well known Christian author has written, when we are too busy to pray, it actually means we are too busy not to pray. The mounting pressures ought to remind us how needy we really are for God to give us life and breath and everything (Acts 17:25).

Jesus Lived Life To The Full

If anyone knew capacity, it was Jesus in his earthly ministry. He would teach and perform miracles all day long, going late into the evening, to then rise very early the next morning to pray in a desolate place (cf. Mark 1:32-35). For Jesus, life was full – full of ministry, full of journeying, full of obedience, and often full of opposition from his own people.

Jesus knows what it is to be busy and in many ways at capacity. Some have pondered whether Christ’s whole life of sacrificial outpouring may have resulted in physically noticeable aging: “So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” (John 8:57). He was in his early thirties, but maybe as a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3) he experienced physical aging to appear older than he really was. Perhaps you can relate.

Yet Jesus is different than you and I. He always lived every moment Coram Deo, in dependence of his Heavenly Father who had sent him and loved him. He was sustained in wearying days with food his disciples knew nothing about – doing the will of his Father (John 4:32-34).

Jesus Christ lived a full life, carrying the greatest burdens imaginable. But more than that, his ultimate burden was to bear the sins of his people on the cross. It was there that Christ felt the fullness of God’s wrath against sin and exhausted it entirely. By his righteous wrath-bearing crucifixion in the place of sinners, he has made full atonement for all who trust in him. It is in this way that weary people weighed down with guilt can find true peace with God.

From His Fullness, Grace Upon Grace

Looking to this Jesus, we find “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16).

Here are 3 simple reminders for you and I in the full seasons, where we feel at capacity and prone to wander from the God we love:

1. Jesus Understands Your Load (Heb. 4:14) He is able to sympathize with you from his place in heaven now, since it wasn’t all that long ago that he experienced the same hardships on earth. You might not feel like others understand the weight you are carrying, but Jesus does, and is warmly sympathizing with you now.

2. Jesus Has Finished What You Never Could (Heb. 1:3b) Our most ultimate challenge before us is not getting our tasks accomplished, but getting right before God. After making purification for sins, Jesus sat down at the right hand of God. That means in the midst of a really busy season with lots to do, we can breathe a happy sigh of relief – the most important work has been completed by Jesus on our behalf. Thankfully, even our sin of self-sufficient functional athiesm was paid for on the cross.

3. Jesus Is With You (Matt. 28:20, Is. 41:10) We might forget or neglect our relationship with Christ, but what mercy it is that he never forgets about us. He is with you and his power is made perfect in your weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). Your load of responsibility may not change, but you can roll the weight onto his strong shoulders. For he is your God, he will strengthen you, he will help you, he will uphold you with his righteous nail-scarred right hand.

Palm Sunday – A Poem

It was a memorable day in Jerusalem,
Jesus of Nazareth’s triumphal entry.
All of Jerusalem was stirred up,
“Who is this?”, “Hosanna!”, “Blessed be!”

Cloaks and palm branches laid down,
The people praised the Son of David.
But not all received him kindly,
The religious elite watched and hated.

Christ’s triumphal entry was a humble glory.
Instead of a war horse, he rode a donkey.
Fulfilling prophecy left and right,
His face like flint rode in confidently.

Disrupting the city and its worship,
Jesus overturned tables and traditions.
The marginalized of society loved him,
But the religious remained in opposition.

Jerusalem wasn’t Christ’s ultimate destination,
He was headed to the cross.
Jesus was on a search and rescue mission,
He came to seek and save the lost.

Review // Psalms (EBTC)

I’ve been waiting for Jim Hamilton’s commentary on the Psalms for years.

After reading Hamilton’s large Biblical theology work, “God’s Glory In Salvation Through Judgment“, I grew exponentially in my understanding and appreciation of Biblical theology. Hamilton has a scholar’s mind and a shepherd’s heart, and his writing brings both together.

At EMA 2018 in London, UK (Evangelical Ministry Assembly) Jim Hamilton was the keynote speaker and gave several lectures on Biblical theology. During one of his talks he mentioned how he had just recently finished his commentary on the Psalms and it was going into pre-publication review in the weeks ahead. I made a mental note and kept tabs on when it would be released.

It was a good day when I finally received my copy of his 2 volume commentary on Psalms. Released in December 2021, this commentary is an weighty addition to the already impressive Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary series by Lexham Academic.

A Biblical-Theological Commentary

Too often, the Psalms are studied individually without appropriating an overview of the whole Psalter. Hamilton bucks the trend:

“This commentary seeks to interpret the book of Psalms as a book, that is, as a purposefully ordered collection of poems that build on and interpret one another.”

Psalms, Volume 1, p. 3

This commentary explains the interconnectedness of Psalms to one another and to the whole canon of Scripture. The introduction to the book gives really compelling chiastic structures for the five books within the Psalms, as well as overarching Biblical theological themes (God’s word and the promises in it, the suffering righteous servant, and the sudden destruction of the seemingly powerful wicked) p.75.

Each Psalm follows the same structure in its commentary:

  • Overview and Structure of Psalm
  • Scripture (in CSB and author’s translation)
  • Context: Verbal and Thematic Links with Surrounding Psalms
  • Exposition
  • Bridge (typological fulfillment in Christ and general application for his people)

I own several excellent commentaries on the Psalms already, but this 2 volume set has quickly become one of my favourites. I find Hamilton to be very helpful in the way he writes, again as a combination of scholar and pastor. His observations are not only exegetically trustworthy, but also spiritually uplifting.

Here’s an excerpt from Psalm 121:

“Yahweh can help in any way he chooses, and he has no shortage of imaginative solutions to the problems of his people. He can help them with water from rocks, sticks that sweeten bitter waters, jars of oil, enemy armies turning their swords on themselves, even the birth of babies, one baby in particular.”

Psalms, Volume 2, p. 384

I highly recommend this commentary on Psalms from Lexham Academic. By combining Biblical-theology with literary sensitivity and pastoral heart, Jim Hamilton has produced a truly excellent resource for the church.

I received a complimentary copy of this commentary from Lexham Academic in exchange for an unbiased review.

REVIEW: A Contemporary Handbook for Weddings & Funerals and Other Occasions

The important moments in our lives bring us together: Weddings, funerals, births, Christmas and Easter, baptisms, and more.

Church leaders are privileged to facilitate many of these significant events, bringing God’s Word to bear upon people in their joys and sorrows.

To assist the preparations of church leaders, Kregel Ministry has recently released a revised version of their helpful resource: “A Contemporary Handbook for Weddings & Funerals and Other Occasions“. This is a book full of aids for crafting orders of service, sermons, liturgies, and more.

In a pinch, a pastor could use these aids word for word in their service. But more likely, these chapters would help a pastor weave more variety and helpful nuance into their existing preparations.

Divided into three main sections (Weddings, Funerals and Other Occasions), the reader will find a large amount of helpful content geared toward a variety of settings and scenarios in which you may find yourself in.

For novice and seasoned pastors alike, this book is an excellent resource to help you prepare to minister to your people through the most important moments of their lives. For that reason, you really can’t go wrong with picking up a copy.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Kregel Ministry in exchange for an unbiased review.

REVIEW: Small Preaching

I want to become a better preacher.

Most preachers are aware of their personal quirks and deficiencies to overcome. Like Paul, we are looking to the Lord that “words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (Eph. 6:19). And yet, this ought not to create passivity in the preacher. Trusting in the Lord, there are small ways we can actively strive to improve our ministry.

Dr. Jonathan T. Pennington, scholar-preacher, has written a book on exactly this. Small Preaching is appropriately small – a mere 119 pages, but even the size communicates its aim: “25 Little Things You Can Do Now to Become a Better Preacher.”

Pennington isn’t trying to say everything about preaching in this book – he happily leaves that to other books on preaching and homiletics seminary courses. Instead, he focuses on giving his readers some very specific and practical ideas to improve their preaching.

In his introduction he says:

“How does lasting change come about in diet and exercise or aquiring a new skill? Through taking small steps in the same direction over time. This book does not promise that if you just do this one thing, then your preaching will be magically different, the preaching version of hiring the $200 million slugger or the 7’2″ center. Instead I offer you here some small ideas that can have big consequences if you play the long and methodical game with sincerity and intentionality.”

Pennington, Small Preaching, p. 3

Like any good preacher, Pennington has divided the chapters under three main headings, alliterated with the letter P: the Person of the Preacher, the Preparation for Preaching, and the Practice of Preaching.

The Person of the Preacher deals with the spirit in which we endeavour to preach God’s word. How do you respond when someone thanks you and gives you praise for the sermon you preached? Or what about when someone gives you valid criticism? Is there perhaps an subconscious tendency in us to think we need to be God’s lawyer, when really we are called to be his witness? And though all preaching involves teaching, how should the preacher understand the overlap and distinctions? In this section, practical advice is offered to give the reader a sharper purpose of preaching, and humble happiness no matter what response he receives.

The Preparation for Preaching was the most helpful section of the book for me. Pennington stresses the real importance of writing out your sermon in a full manuscript (full sentences and paragraphs), regardless of what you take into the pulpit. In his view, “writing is thinking” (p. 40). By writing the sermon out, it gives the preacher more ability to reflect and refine the logic and articulation of the sermon. But what’s more, Pennington encourages preachers to try doing “snack writing” throughout the week. Popping quick thoughts and reflections into an app or notepad throughout the week keeps things fresh and provides the preacher with a mountain of insights and reflection once it comes time to compile everything into the finished form. Oh, and do you ever think “This sermon stinks?” as you’re preparing it? Pennington does too, and he helps us understand why.

The Practice of Preaching is the longest section of the book with 10 chapters. The most helpful chapters to me were about the first minute of the sermon and the last minute of the sermon. These chapters contain very practical and immediately applicable tips for improving the sermon. Having a punchy and engaging introduction memorized can really help grab the attention of your people and sets the stage for the rest of the sermon. Then thinking about concluding thoughts, we must grapple with skillfully landing that 747 of a sermon. The first and last 60 seconds of the sermon are important and deserve our prayerful consideration.

Overall, this is an excellent book from Dr. Pennington. The chapters are succinctly and warmly written, making it very readable. I read it in one sitting and really enjoyed it. I’ve already incorporated many of his ideas into my own preaching and teaching. These small steps are already making a big impact, and I am grateful.

I received a complimentary copy of this book by Lexham Press in exchange for an unbiased review.

The Krypsis of Christmas

From eternity past,
the Triune God is and will always be.
Father, Son and Spirit,
God is One, reigning as Three.

In His glorious counsel of love,
This Godhead overflowed to create.
The heavens and earth would be filled,
Creatures small and creatures great.

Yet, as the omniscient God knew,
The pinnacle of creatures would rebel.
Humans, made in God’s own image,
Would reject him and prefer hell.

God the Father addresses the Godhead,
“Let us show mercy to these who will spit in our face.”
God the Son, responds,
“Yes Father; and what justice demands I will pay in their place.”

And so it was, humanity was formed.
God was pleased; “it was very good”.
But before long, mankind had sinned,
And under God’s wrath now stood.

Born of woman, born under the law,
That first Christmas, God sent us his Son.
He came to redeem us from sin’s bondage,
And secure our adoption as sons.

God the Son came and emptied himself,
Not by subtraction, but by addition.
Veiled in flesh; fully God fully man,
Jesus Christ came to make propitiation.

Wrapped in humiliation, God the Son descended,
Emptied not of divinity but hidden by krypsis.
He came to bear the cross and rise,
The Triune God offers salvation at Christmas.

REVIEW: 40 Questions About Roman Catholicism

Kregel Academic has published another outstanding volume in their “40 Questions” series. Up for review here is “40 Questions About Roman Catholicism” by Gregg R. Allison.

It shouldn’t come as a great surprise, but this book isn’t written by a Roman Catholic, but instead by a Protestant (more specifically, a Reformed Baptist).

Although Gregg Allison may not himself be a Catholic, he is well versed in historical theology. Everyone will inevitably have bias and blindspots, but his reputation precedes him as one who represents differing theology and tradition accurately. Equally important as his own integrity is how this book weighs the distinctions of Roman Catholicism against those of Protestant evangelicalism.

The historical part (Q’s 1- 10) of the book carefully reviews the significant events and people prior to the Protestant Reformation, and also includes the more recent complexities of Vatican Council II, an aggiornamento of the Roman Catholic Church. Vatican Council II occurred in the early 1960’s and updated “doctrines, practices, liturgy, structures, and relationships” (p.43). Many changes from Vatican II are still being implemented today. And deeper still, where are the lines of agreement and disagreement with Protestants? What terminology is understood similarly and what is not?

Theological questions about revelation and authority, the Church, the sacraments, penance and reconciliation, salvation and Mariology are addressed in the second part (Q’s 11-34). Here you’ll find important questions regarding the process of salvation, the role of good works and merit, the role of purgatory, to name a few.

Lastly, to address the contemporary moment of the Roman Catholic Church, the third part of the book (Q’s 35-40) addresses the state of the Church today, including challenges and contributions. A growing phenomenon is how some Protestant evangelicals are embracing Catholicism. How should we as Christians think about addressing this? And the final 40th question is worth our deep consideration – “How Can I Talk With My Catholic Loved Ones about the Gospel?

I am convinced this is a book I will return to many times to better understand the history and theological distinctions of Roman Catholicism. Gregg R. Allison has written a thorough treatment on the subject, and I commend it to you. One might suggest some less academic titles for those seeking a basic understanding, but for those who are prepared to think deeply, Gregg Allison will happily be your guide.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for an unbiased review.