How to Read the Bible for All its Worth is written by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart. Gordon is a professor of New Testament at Regent College and Stuart a professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
The purpose of this book is to help the reader become a better Bible interpreter. The authors focus on good interpretation of the text, what the text originally meant (exegesis) and to hear that same meaning in the variety of our own day (hermeneutics). Exegesis is a historical task laying distinction of books according to time and culture of the author and his readers, geographical background, political arenas while hermeneutics seeks to display the relevance of the text in the current century.
Professor Fee Gordon discusses matters on choosing translation. Which translation should one go for and study from? Should we opt for a version because we like it, it’s readable or it was recommended by a woman or man of God? The challenge is the transfer of words and ideas from one language to another; looking at the original language, receptor language and the historical distance existing between the original language in matters of words and their meanings, grammar and culture. The writers have written a whole chapter to guide their readers on different translations.
Furthermore, the book all through has described how to read all the books of the Bible with a clear understanding on the given guidelines, illustrated with examples and pitfalls to avoid what isn’t in the Bible. A good example is with the narratives; individual Old Testament narratives are not intended to teach moral lessons. The purpose is to tell what God did in the history of Israel, not to offer moral examples of right or wrong behavior. The story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis doesn’t portray negative results of parenthood favoritism; rather it serves to tell us how Abraham’s family line was carried on through Jacob and not Esau. And the book of Ruth isn’t a love story; it’s the story of God’s kindness played out in the lives of 3 people who are the central characters!
What’s not in the Bible shouldn’t then be forced. As we read and meditate on Scriptures, faithfulness to the scriptures is vital to give room for the Spirit to illuminate the text and speak to you. It’s time we evaluate the sermons we preach and the songs we sing whether they are scriptural or not.
This book has helped me in understanding how to read the Bible and interpret it correctly. I, therefore, recommend this book to all people who would want their hearts and minds drawn to God through his inspired word with no expectation that everything in the Bible applies as instructions for their own individual lives.
This book review has been written by Delvin Rutto. Delvin is a first-year apprentice placed at Mwangaza Children’s Home in Kilifi County.
Counterfeit Gods is a book written by Timothy Keller. Tim is an American pastor, theologian, and Christian apologist. He is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.
Counterfeit Gods talks about the empty promises of money, sex, and power, and the Only Hope that matters. It focuses on the idols we (human beings) have in our hearts that hinder us from acknowledging God as the only person who can give us the satisfaction we yearn for, and not just that but it further gives detailed information on how to identify, uproot and replace these idols.
The author defines an idol as anything more important to a person than God, anything that absorbs his/her heart and imagination more than God, anything one seeks to give him/her what only God can give.
Tim uses illustrations of a number of characters in the Bible who had hidden idols in their lives before they discerned, identified, uprooted and replaced them with the one true God. He talks of Jacob, describing his life as empty. He never had his father’s love, ran away from home to avoid his brother’s wrath, he certainly had no sense of God’s love and care. Then he beheld the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and all the longings of his heart for meaning and affirmation were fixed on Rachel (his idol).
He talks of Naaman, whose success, wealth and power, hindered him from believing Elisha’s instruction to go and dip himself in the Jordan River seven times, and how it took the intervention of his servant for him to be convinced. He further talks of Zacchaeus whose idol was greed and money, and Nebuchadnezzar who idolized status and power. Finally, he talks about Jonah who beheld the love for his own nation and failed to have compassion on the people of Nineveh.
How do we identify idols in our lives?
‘Your religion is what you do with your solitude’ said Archbishop William Temple. In other words, the true god of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there’s nothing else demanding your attention. What do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort in the privacy of your heart? Another way to discern your heart’s true love is to look at how you spend your money. Jesus said, ‘’ where your treasure is, there is your heart also.’’ Mathew 6:21.
What stood out for me in the book was chapter 6 where Tim dwells on the story of Jonah and the mission given to him by God and how his story connects to Christ. Jonah had to leave his comfort zone and his safety to go to Nineveh where he could face rejection and death. On the other hand, Christ left His comfort in heaven and actually died on the cross. Jonah was thrown in a terrible storm by sailors and the sea became calm, in the same way when the disciples woke Jesus up during a terrible storm, he calmed the sea.
The only difference is that whereas Jonah was merely thrown into the sea and later rescued by a fish, Jesus on the cross, however, was thrown into the ultimate storm – facing the divine justice and punishment that we deserve for our wrongdoing.
He says, ‘When I struggle with my idols I think of Jesus, voluntarily bowing his head into that ultimate storm, taking it on frontally, for me.’ While we may be wondering on where to draw the line of loving the good things we have like family, jobs, spouses, pleasure and so on, Tim says, ‘the solution is not to love good things less, but to love the Best thing more.’
I highly recommend this book to every Christian. It will help us discern, identify, uproot and replace the idols in their lives, with the only one – God who can satisfy their cravings. Counterfeit Gods points to Scripture to help root them out, turns to the Cross to find forgiveness and points to the gospel as the power to find ultimate freedom from them.
Anna Daisy Ojera has written this book review. Anna Daisy is an apprentice based in GracePoint Church, Kikuyu where she helps in the children’s ministry.
Many books and articles have been written on the topic of evangelism from how to do it successfully to how to keep the converts, the content of evangelism and even how to be bold for the timid ones. We have gurus who for ages have been doing it and praise God for the fruit and their great insight.
It occurred to me, however, that evangelism is a rather interesting ministry. It is not always exciting and it is not easy and here’s the reason; it is a ministry to the dead so to say; a mission impossible of resurrecting dead men.
The famous story in Ezekiel 37 is a striking one; Ezekiel is carried by God’s spirit to a valley. It’s more of a vision than the dramatic whirling of Elijah. The valley is not with flowers and flowing streams but with bones and lots of them and in his assessment they were very dry. Well, the Lord has brought Ezekiel here for practical lessons and asks ‘can these bones live’? Answer: ‘O Sovereign Lord, You alone know’.
The Lord then asks Ezekiel to prophesy or proclaim to the bones to live which he does and the result is shocking. The bones come together bone to bone and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them. He again, on the Lord’s command, calls for breath and they stand on their feet. And behold a great army! It sounds like what happens in Hollywood horror movies (I think they might have borrowed ideas from this).
What is this all about anyway? Well, we need not overthink as Ezekiel explains the vision. This is an illustration of the nation of Israel, they are the dry bones – lost hope in captivity in Babylon in oppression and their country was ruined and they are under the yoke of the most powerful king at the time, they are as good as dead – but the comfort is that in that impossible situation God will raise them again to life by restoring them back to their land.
The promise is made massive by the fact that God will not only restore Judah who is in Babylon back to Jerusalem. He would also restore everyone else including the other 10 tribes of Israel that had been assimilated by the Assyrians many years ago so that they can become one nation of 12 tribes again just like they were in the time of King David. And David who was long dead by then would be their king not for 40 years but forever. Not only that but that people will not be rebellious like before but would walk in God’s way faithfully. This is not just a miracle of being alive physically but also spiritually. And there will be no more ‘by the rivers of Babylon songs’ again for they will dwell there forever and God’s temple will be there never again to be robbed by Nebuchadnezzar; such a great thing! Can this happen? Only You Lord knows…
The vision will be partially fulfilled when the people of Judah return home to rebuild their nation led by Nehemiah, Ezra and Zerubbabel. But even greater when Christ the son of David comes, dwells among us (Emmanuel) as the temple through whom we offer sacrifices to God, brings both Judah, Israel and all nations to himself and is still reigning almost two thousand years after and will continue to do so forever.
But what does this have to do with Evangelism?
I think Ezekiel is essentially doing what an evangelist is called to do, being taken to a valley of dry bones, dead men and women. Paul uses the language of dead men in Ephesians 2, unconverted men and women are dead even though physically they are alive, you can say they are walking dead. They might be arguing and talking and even agreeing and disagreeing but the fact is that they are dead. And the question of them coming to life is as difficult for us today as it was for Ezekiel. We don’t have that experience, we don’t have any course that handles the resurrection of people, we only study them as dead (post-mortem) but do not how to bring them back to life. We know what to do in case someone is angry, bored, illiterate, injured, fainted or goes into a comma but not if they are dead. And if that be the case we must learn to answer rightly like Ezekiel, ‘O Sovereign Lord, only You know’. I guess the ‘’knowing’’ here is more than just having knowledge but also being able to or having the ability, as it were, to bring them back to life.
Here is the big lesson for evangelism – we do not know, only God knows and better still we cannot bring dead people back to life only the Author of Life can. It is a mission impossible for any human being to bring back the dead. It is, therefore, a surprise when God invites us to such a mission, and we must learn from Ezekiel; we don’t know, we cannot do it.
The starting point of evangelism is to accept defeat; our weakness and our inability. It is an invitation first to ‘know’ the Lord, of His power and his working. Evangelism is for the building of faith of a believer not in them doing stuff, but faith in the Lord they believe in, it is being invited by God to his garage where he shows you how He does it. It is like being invited to that time before time began, chapter zero of Genesis and being with the Father, Son and the Spirit as they created the universe and everything in it. It is hearing the Word of God ‘’let there be’’ and seeing the lights shining, the waters flowing, the birds and animals coming. That is evangelism for us; witnessing God do the miracle of raising the dead; seeing grace manifested in our very eyes.
Evangelism then is about believers first; about their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Being awed by the greatness of our God and moved to cling more to Him. Seeing grace at work as God calls the dead (spiritually dead) to come back to life and turn from their old futile ways to put their trust in God.
As we see people being saved, leaving their old ways and turning to Christ, we watch with amazement and wonder, like Ezekiel witnessing the bones come together, and then flesh and finally breath. We praise Him to whom salvation belongs not just for others but even for us.
Although it is God who raises men from the grave he invites us to witness this not as passive members but as active ones; he gives us words to say (prophecy), and as we speak His words dead people come to life. The Lord calls us to share the good news of Jesus, to tell the story of a Saviour, we repeat his words and as we do that we see men waking up, running to Him for salvation. As a result, we come to ‘know the Lord’ and they come to know the Lord.
Therefore, ministry to the dry bones is possible because it is the ministry of the One who has the power to raise them from death to life.
As I had mentioned, this is not an article that answers all questions on evangelism but one that seeks to challenge our view of evangelism so that we think on its practicalities that could be different from one person to another and from one context to another.
This article has been written by Peter Kamau. Peter is on the staff team serving as a Ministry Training Facilitator and is passionate about missions.
‘Taking God at His Word’ has been written by Kevin DeYoung. Kevin is an American Reformed Evangelical theologian and author. He is currently the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina.
Can we trust the Bible completely? Is it sufficient for our complicated lives? Can we really know what it teaches? I wonder how you feel about taking God at his word. It has been one of the hardest parts of my life as a disciple of Christ. I have no problem reading God’s word, the challenge comes at applying it and literally taking God at his Word.
When we were given the book, I really wanted to read and see whether I would be helped in this area. The title says it all. Kevin begins by laying out what we should believe, feel and do with the word of God. By realizing that God’s Word says what is true, demands what is right and provides what is good we should thus delight in it, desire it and depend on it. We should sing, speak and study it, obey and store it, praise God for it and pray that he would act according to his Word. Quite accurately, the author attests that we should go to the Bible to learn about the Bible because to judge the Bible by any other standard would be to make the Bible less than what it claims to be.
If I’m honest with myself, I never thought that Scripture was enough. I struggled with its sufficiency, especially the knowledge of salvation and godly living. Yet Kevin puts it clearly that the Word of God is perfect and complete giving us all we need to know about Christ, salvation, and godliness. He further affirms that the Son is our great superlative, surpassing all others because in him we have fullness and finality of God’s redemption and revelation.
More to this, the writer also gives helpful advice on how to take God at his word by showing us that even Jesus believed that the Bible was all true, all edifying, all important and all about him. He believed absolutely that the Bible was from God and totally free from error. What scripture says, God says and what God said was recorded infallibly in the Scriptures.
He also gives good pointers on what we should focus on and how we can go about it. The most distinct pointer I have found helpful is that nothing more needs to be said about the Scripture, once we know that all of it has been breathed out by God. We trust the Bible because it is God’s Bible. And God being God, we have every reason to take him at his word.
I highly recommend this book to every Christian and non-Christian with questions about the Bible and for Christians wanting to grow in their understanding of the Bible.
This book review has been written by Everlyne Muoki. Everlyne is an apprentice placed at ACK Mt. Kenya Hospital in Kerugoya, Kirinyaga County where she helps in the IT & Procurement Department as well as in the morning devotions in the hospital.
This book review has been written by Sharon Vihenda. Sharon is a 1st-year apprentice placed in PEFA Ruiru Centre serving as the assistant administrator and in the children’s ministry.
‘Where was God when that happened?’ is a book written by Christopher Ash. Ash is a pastor, teacher, and writer-in-residence at Tyndale House, Cambridge, UK.
The book is written in an orderly way that is helpful in following through. Chapter 1-4 talks of how God’s will is already done on earth, here and now. The last chapters from 5-7 consider how and why time will come when God’s will is done on earth in the same way that it is done in heaven.
In the introduction, the writer points us to the day to day tragic events that happen and how people often ask ‘where was God when that happened’ since He is supposed to be in control. He also points us to 6 models of the human view of the control of God. The models are blind fate, nature is all there is, God within nature, God the referee, Polytheism(gods), and God the puppet master. These views are a narrow and confined view of God who to us acts in a certain way or is limited by circumstances.
The author helps us to see how God is in control of every aspect of this universe. He helps us see how God controls both evil and good. We are also able to see that God is invisible but fully in control. When disasters occur we are quick to blame evil forces thinking that they are independent of God. The author helps us see how God permits evil and could use evil for his good will. He points out Biblical examples where things are done out of evil intentions but God uses it for His glory and for the good of His people, for instance, the story of Joseph, Job and even Esther where God is not mentioned at all but is in control.
This book has helped me to have a different view of suffering. We see Jesus, God’s only son undergoing suffering for the human race since it was God’s will for their redemption. We are comforted amidst tough times that God is in control even in the darkest moments. We see the God who wins at the end because his Sovereignty remains even when things are chaotic. We are also encouraged to be patient even when things are not working in our lives as expected. We are taught to totally cast our cares unto the Lord and to stop worrying ourselves. We ought to put our trust in Him amidst suffering and to know that He is in control of the future and His will is being done on earth as in heaven as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer.
I have read books on suffering but this one stood out for me. Blaise Pascal’s says that suffering is the natural state for a Christian. Indeed it is an inescapable part of the joy of our redemption.
I highly recommend it to all Christians for their enlightening on this rather hard topic and for their encouragement in their Christian walk which is marked with much suffering. I also recommend it to non-believers and atheists who most times major on the subject of suffering as their basis for the non-existence of God.
This is a book review by one of our 2nd-year apprentices, Grace Njeri. Grace has been serving in the office for the two years helping in the admin office. She does accounting and is passionate about music.
Expositional Preaching: How we speak God’s Word Today has been written by David Helm. David is Executive Director of the Charles Simeon Trust, serves as lead pastor of the Hyde Park congregation of Holy Trinity Church in Chicago, and is a member of The Gospel Coalition Council.
This book draws back the importance of expositional preaching. Helm starts by identifying why we need expositional preaching and says that it is to humble the sinner, exalt the savior and promote holiness. He gives practical ways on how to go about expositional preaching and divides these into three practical steps which include contextualization, exegesis and theological reflection.
Contextualization is trying to relate to how the portion of scripture affects us as per now. Exegesis is in terms of how the portion of scripture related to the people then when it was written. Lastly, Theological reflection is about how it relates to God’s plan for redemption.
The book has been well structured which makes it easy to follow through. David identifies the different kinds of preaching. First, the impressionistic preaching which goes directly to applying a specific portion of scripture without regarding the historical facts about the passage. Secondly, the inebriated preaching where we use the Bible to support our ideologies. Lastly, the inspired preaching whereby a person focuses on the divine authorship of God’s word. He or she ignores the analytical way of approaching a text bringing about the popular phrases like ‘fresh word’ of God and ‘I heard from God’.
These kinds of preachers, Helm says, need to deal with this kind of preaching by getting the text right and learn how to get it across. And then the preacher should be able to connect how the portion of Scripture connects to God’s plan for salvation. David says, “Some preachers use the Bible in the way a drunk uses a lamppost—more for support than for illumination.”
The book is short and punchy and reminds us of what really matters in our preaching. Helm makes his principal point passionately and convincingly: through faithful expositional preaching, we can speak God’s Word today. It is a good guide with biblical and practical ways of doing expositional preaching.
I highly recommend it to young preachers for their learning of how to speak God’s Word but also to the seasoned preachers who might be tempted to think they’ve got everything right to be helped in ways they might have allowed bad habits to creep into their preaching. It will be helpful to those starting out to find ways to preach and those experienced to long to do it better.
This is a book review by one of our apprentices, Ben Kinuthia. He is based in Deliverance Church, Maseno. He helps in the church administration as well as reaching out to students in schools nearby for fellowship and Bible studies.
I have always struggled reading books but Dig Deeper by Andrew Sach and Nigel Beynon has been a cultivating piece of work that has kept me glued for nearly three months, reading and re-reading it. As the title suggests, the book is about mining valuable treasure from the Bible. The authors thus labor to give tools to be able to mine this treasure. I have always thought reading the Bible is obvious; choose a text, read, assume you have all you need to get from the text, say a prayer and that’s it.
The authors say ‘This is a book to help you understand the Bible correctly… We want to help you dig deeper and find hidden riches in the Bible.’ They go on to say, ‘Most of all, we want to help you do all this for yourself.’
The format of the book is very simple to follow through. The writers have used tools in each chapter with many illustrations and examples from the Bible. Each tool has been placed in a separate section in the toolbox which has made it interesting and easy to understand on how it operates in the mining process; it has been wonderful to work through the practical examples in each section. It is impossible to read this book without opening your Bible and rubbing your nose actively in the scripture.
The various tools include:
The author’s purpose tool
The context tool
The structure tool
The linking words tool
The vocabulary tool
The translations tool
The repetition tool
The genre tool
The Bible timeline tool
I liked the fact that the chapters are short and detailed and very clear. Their flow of thought is amazing all through and they do not lose the main purpose of the book: ‘to help us correctly handle the Bible so as to experience God and grow in him.’ The language is easy to grasp for everyone which makes it an easy read.
Dig deeper has not only helped me on how to effectively read the bible and experience God but has also engaged my thoughts on the many times I have done the opposite of what I ought to do when reading the Bible. It has shown me the many times I have wanted to be the ‘David’ in the story, the ‘Moses’ in the story; always wanting to be the hero of the day but never pausing to consider the possibility of me being the grumbling Israelites or even the unfaithful wife to Hosea by correctly interpreting the Word of God.
If you are seeking to grow in your walk with God, if you are seeking to teach the word of God to others then you have to read this book. I recommend it to every Christian eager to understand God’s Word. It is rich in every way.
In God’s grace, I’ve been thinking through what true repentance is made of and especially when it comes to the affections I feel. Most recently I’ve been thinking about the difference between shame and guilt. Both are Biblical words used in the diagnosis and punishment of sin but what do they really mean? Is there one more preferred than the other? How do they apply to repentance?
Let’s begin with understanding what these words mean. In its essence, the chief defining trait of shame, is embarrassment. Feelings of awkwardness mostly from being found out in wrongdoing. Guilt on the other hand, in its essence is about responsibility for an action. Feeling to blame for wrongdoing. Each can have some traits of the other but I think the chief difference is that of embarrassment versus responsibility.
The chief difference is that of embarrassment versus responsibility
How does this apply when we think about our sin before God and others? When we think about sin, it is not enough to simply know that something is bad and abominable before God, God cares for how we view it and what feelings it invokes in us. This is where shame and guilt come in. We need to feel both embarrassed and responsible for our sin. Embarrassed because we knew better and still went on and did it. Embarrassment because we did what we think others shouldn’t or did to others what we would not like to suffer from them – the embarrassment of our hypocrisy. The embarrassment of choosing what fails and is doomed to fail. I think this embarrassment is what God speaks about in Isaiah 1:29, when He speaks of redeeming Zion by justice. The effect is that those dwelling in Jerusalem as Isaiah is speaking will be ashamed of their idolatry because it will fail them and cause them to face God’s wrath!
But we must also feel responsible. That we deliberately took action and walked a certain path because we wanted to. That we are to blame for the choice and the consequences that followed. Guilt considers that God is right in His verdict of our sin and that we can give no defense; we are rightly accused and judged, indeed guilty! Isaiah at his call in Isaiah 6, sees God and is immediately conscious of his sin. He knows that he is guilty and deserving of judgement. “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” v5. He understands and takes ownership of his sin and knows that it means he is doomed.
How then do these two feelings work together in our repentance? Let’s consider King David, in his sin with Bathsheba and how shame and guilt work together in his repentance in 2 Samuel 11-12 and Psalm 51. David sees a woman bathing, finds out she’s someone else’s wife and still calls her up to his room and sleeps with her. She gets pregnant and David devises this grand plan to have her husband sleep with her to cover up the pregnancy but when that fails, he plots Uriah’s death in war. He then takes Bathsheba to be his wife and bear his child. He does all this is secrecy thinking that he is all safe. But God’s been watching and sends him a prophet to expose his sin. The prophet quite expertly exposes David’s sin through a story of injustice. David, as the ‘righteous’ ruler is rightly angered by the injustice and proclaims the proper judgement for the sinner. Prophet Nathan then says simply, “You are this man!” and goes ahead to proclaim Yahweh’s verdict and judgement on him.
How does David respond? “I have sinned against the LORD.” This, I think, is the result of shame and guilt. He is ashamed because he gets to see himself clearly. He is able to plainly see his actions in the light of what he knows and has received from Yahweh’s hand. He sees his hypocrisy plainly – how can he judge the unjust man in the story when he has done exactly the same thing to Uriah? His shame humbles him before the LORD to hear and accept responsibility for his sin. With things now so clear, with him off his high horse, he can then take responsibility for his actions, rightly confessing, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Shame humbles the sinner and gives proper room for guilt to work to bring about confession and then hopefully godly sorrow that leads to repentance.
Shame humbles the sinner and gives proper room for guilt to work to bring about confession and then hopefully godly sorrow that leads to repentance.
Psalm 51 records David’s response to the exposure of his sin. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. . . For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgement. . . Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. . . Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. . . Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. . .”
The shame and guilt have worked out their proper course on the road to repentance for David. We shall do well to learn from him. When God mercifully exposes our sin, in private or public, we ought not to take quickly to trying to excuse/justify our sin. There is never a good reason for sin! Then we are to have a good look at our sin – to name it (bloodguiltiness, for David) and understand what it is that we have believed, said and done that is contrary to God. Often times I’ve found that when I am aware of a sin, I want to skip this step of properly understanding and taking responsibility for it because I am so embarrassed by it. But what I’ve learnt is that, I do not properly feel the guilt of it – take proper responsibility for it, because I haven’t properly diagnosed the error. This means that I oftentimes stick at sinning because I’m busy trying to treat the symptoms and not the root of the problem. I’m busy trying to put out the fire without understanding its cause. “Let’s just move on!” yet I haven’t known what it is I am moving on/away from.
I have found that it is when I have properly understood my sin that I can clearly confess it and then seek to turn away from it, which in fact is what repentance means! How can we ever hope to confess and turn from (repent) what we do not understand? How can we be equipped to recognize sin in its different guises when we’re not humbly taking responsibility for it and understanding it at its root? True repentance involves the pain of shame and guilt followed by the real confession of sin and seeking to turn away from the sin we have just confessed as God cleanses and helps us. Skipping any step leaves us simply wallowing in sin not mortifying it!
This is a review of the Cross of Christ by one of our apprentices Ruth Waliaula. Ruth is an apprentice placed in City of Light Fellowship Church in Karen, Nairobi where she helps with administration work.
‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’ 1 Corinthians 1:18
Many people, I included have used this verse often especially in preaching, but paying no or less attention to the seriousness of the message of the cross.
Many times we have used the cross and signs of the cross as Christians but we barely take into consideration its importance. In fact, we never ask ourselves why the cross and not another thing. We are so used to the cross that it has become cliché, sadly.
John Stott writes to bring us a deeper understanding of the cross as Christians and the importance of the cross. He writes to bring to us the basic evangelical understanding of the cross. He says there is no greater, no more challenging task for a Christian leader than to set out the meaning of the cross for the church and for the world.
The book has been written in a very systematic way that is easy to understand and follow. It is divided into four major sections namely, approaching the cross, heart of the cross, achievement of the cross and living under the cross.
The author brings to us the centrality of the cross. He shows us how the cross became the central theme and the foundational image of the Christian faith. The most amazing thing is getting to learn that there was nothing else that could represent the Christian faith other than the cross.
John explains the reason why Christ died. Many times we blame Judas, Pilate and the soldiers for killing Jesus but do not consider the bigger picture of Christ dying on the cross. In blaming ‘those people’ we have failed to see that we are the reason he died; it is because of our sins that he died.
It is until we realize this that we will grasp the seriousness of the cross. Understanding the seriousness of the cross gives us an understanding of the seriousness of sin. Sin is so serious that Christ had to shed His blood on the cross; there was no other alternative for the forgiveness of sin other than in the blood of Christ.
This book has greatly helped me to get the wider picture of the work of Christ on the cross. It offers more than what this review gives. It’s packed with so much knowledge with lots of keen and extensive explanation around this topic that is very helpful in understanding the cross of Christ.
The Cross of Christ is a must read for all Christians. I recommend it to every Christian for the understanding and appreciation of the cross and for the growth of their faith in Christ.
Picking up from where we stopped in Part 1, let’s consider the second fundamental reason why Christians don’t occupy their minds with the hope of heaven now: our view of heaven has been wrongly informed. This has to do with feeding our minds with the wrong things, so that the picture of heaven we have is distorted and wrong. This happens in several ways.
Firstly, many people have fallen for the cartoon depiction of heaven – fat saints and angels seated on clouds playing harps. Having a wrong picture of heaven that falls far short of the real one means we cannot quite occupy our minds with heaven now, for it will not be heaven, as God has revealed it, neither will it work to bear any fruit in us! The heaven described by unbelievers – the pie in the sky, has no appeal and dissuades believers from occupying their minds now with heaven. Painting a picture of something undesirable and boring makes heaven look so ridiculous that there’s no point longing for it. In fact, although heaven as a destination would be preferred to its opposite, hell, the thing that is most to be desired, according to this narrative, is the ‘good’ life now! But does the journey make sense if we know not, nor delight in our desired destination? Doesn’t that always result in choosing a route that seems the most fun to us but that gets us to a different destination altogether?
Secondly, our hopes remain this world centered and not on God and His promise. The world is loud with its talk of “Your best life now”, that Christians have started believing it. This is the devil’s tactic to make us short-sighted. We are distracted by the loud false advertising of the enemy on how great life in this world is. We are tempted to ignore the still, small voice of God’s Spirit-breathed words that tells us of the true and sure promises God has fulfilled and will fulfill; great things that nothing in this world can compare to. We soon fall for the temporary, momentary pleasures instead of waiting for the better, eternal pleasures Yahweh has promised!
The third way the believer’s eyes are kept from the hope of heaven now is through the prosperity gospel . This, it has done in 2 ways. Firstly, it has pointed to this world as the chief place we should wait for and expect the fulfillment of Yahweh’s promises. The prosperity gospel has taken promises Yahweh has made and rather than see that their ultimate fulfillment is in heaven, the world to come, has made it a ‘get-it-now’ thing. The proponents of this false gospel therefore join in the devil’s bandwagon of fixing the believers’ eyes squarely on this world and not on heaven. If I am living for my “Best life now”, why would I occupy my mind with a city to come?
The second way the prosperity gospel diverts the believer’s attention from heaven is by painting a weak picture of heaven. Whereas some are out to make heaven seem boring, the prosperity gospeller is out to make heaven all about ‘me’. Rather than heaven being the place Yahweh has made for His own glory and worship, it becomes the place for the ‘believer’ to get all that they want and have always desired. The focus of heaven becomes about having the biggest house, driving the grandest car and living the lavish life. Heaven is simply the fulfillment of all my selfish fleshly desires! It is not about the worship of God, the wonder of intimate relationship with Him (God dwelling with man), the joy of beholding the Lamb who was slain for us or the perfection of a world where perfect righteousness reigns. My preoccupation then becomes looking at what I deem the best things in this life so that I can want them for ‘heaven’. The focus now is therefore growing my envy and covetousness, not my faith or love or hunger for all that is God’s.
Fourthly, I think we have a big view of man and this creation and a small view of Yahweh. This is the result of some of what we have already discussed earlier: a poor knowledge of God’s Word, the blinding work of the devil and from hearing false gospels. But this is also an effect of sin. Right from Genesis 3, the great characteristic of sin is that we want to be God. We want to take His place of authority and rule and do not consider how foolish this endeavor is. Just as with the kings of the nations in Psalm 2 – God only laughs at our vain efforts! We still deceive ourselves of our grandeur and deny God His (what He deserves from us not what He has in Himself). This means we are preoccupied with building things for ourselves, failing to realize that these things will not in fact last to eternity. What we need instead is to despair of our own effort and look to the great God who promises to build us a righteous dwelling with Himself that lasts forever. We can be sure of it because Jesus died and rose again from the dead, the seal of the assurance of heaven!
Having a wrong picture of heaven means we know not the goodness, bigness, awesomeness and glory of heaven.
Having a wrong picture of heaven means we know not the goodness, bigness, awesomeness and glory of heaven. We know not the promise of its joys, the shine of its glory nor the beauty and safety of its walls. This means that we cannot then desire and long for it. Life now becomes a shadow of what it could be because we will focus on our selfish desires and not realize that it is those things that we prioritize now that will disqualify us for life in the real heaven of God – the kingdom centered in the Father and the Son! Consider the following verses from Revelation:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (21:1-5)
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lambthrough the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (22:1-5)
Aren’t these just amazing pictures of that which awaits those who hope in Jesus Christ? Is there anything boring about these pictures? Heaven, as described in these verses, is something I long for. It represents the removal and annihilation of all that I hate on this earth – sin, suffering, darkness, death. But more than that it represents the place where I will finally be able to worship God as He deserves to be worshipped. It is the place of perfect relationship with God, where I will finally be able to remain faithful as He is faithful. It will be the place of perfect, everlasting enjoyment! There will be nothing there to take away our joy and delight! I’m getting excited just thinking about it!
These things do sound out-of-this-world, no wonder it’s so hard to occupy our minds with them now. Yet, we would do well to think through what is keeping us from thinking of them now and seek the remedy. Let’s open our Bibles and ask God to help us hear Him speak clearly about what He is done, what He is doing and what He will do. Let us keep our eyes focused on what God is saying, discarding the lies that the devil will throw our way or the lures of the world and the lusts of our flesh. Let us learn to spend time filling our minds with the truth of what God has promised so that we might bear fruit in keeping with the hope we have – faith in Jesus Christ and a love for the saints!