Saturday, October 13, 2018

On needing a vacation after your vacation

I went back to work the day after arriving home from a five-day vacation. A coworker asked me how it was and what we did, then commented that I probably needed a vacation after my vacation. I have heard that concept expressed so many times that I imagine it's a common refrain in workplaces across the country.

"I need a vacation after my vacation."
"You look like you could use a second vacation."

We often end up more tired after our vacations than we were before we left. It doesn't take much effort to figure out why. Our vacations cram in more activities in a few days than we typically do in a couple weeks. We create daily itineraries for our vacations to maximize the use of our time. Rarely do we include enough rest time. Rarely do we anticipate how much our sleep schedules will be interrupted by later-than-usual nights, kids waking up early, and just being in an unfamiliar environment. Then when we get home we have bags to unpack, laundry to wash, and a whole assortment of activities to take care of before we head off back to work.

Many times we can't help it. If we take longer vacations we can build in plenty of rest time both during and after a trip. But longer vacations often mean fewer vacations and more time spent going without a change in scenery and away from family.

I sometimes plan random "at home" vacations of just one day where I can be with my family, do very little work, and actually get the rest we need. With longer vacations I try to plan for rest periods or, at least, periods where we have nothing planned. I also mentally prepare myself by knowing what kind of vacation I'm taking. When I have a day off with the kids, I know that I'm going to have fun, but we're going to have down time and not get a lot done. When we go sightseeing and spend a couple days at the water park, I know that I'm am vacationing from work, not activity.

As I reflect on what's left for the rest of the year, I'm excited about what vacation days remain. Thanksgiving will be a good time to relax at home.  Christmas will have some busy activities, but enough time on the back end to relax before returning to the busyness of work and normal life.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Something new after 9 years of seminary

88 credit hours. No wonder it's been 9 years, and I'm still not done. Chipping away at my Master of Divinity has been a long, slow, and often difficult ride. I took Greek with a newborn. I did Hebrew with two kids. This semester I'm doing something new and probably just as challenging.

I am taking my first Spanish-language M.Div course. I have been serving in a Spanish-language church for about a decade. Since I can take Spanish-language classes that count toward my degree (and at a significant discount, let's not forget that), it makes sense to enroll now. Especially since I am taking La PredicaciĆ³n Expositiva or Expository Preaching. I have already preached more times in Spanish than I can count, whereas my English-language sermons probably fall below 10.

Language-wise, this will be challenging. This is a graduate-level course, after all. My language skills are sharp, but I have never tried anything this academically rigorous before. I have four books to read, book reviews to write, lectures to watch, quizzes to take...

[Deep breath]

I am excited about this. Let's do it.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Dinner for Dinos

One of the best things you can do with your children is read to them. I picked up the recently-released book Dinner for Dinos for my 2-year-old daughter. It tells the story of a group of dinosaurs who decided to have a picnic. They go shopping at the grocery store, learn about the importance of eating their vegetables, practice setting the table, pray, and enjoy. The lessons are simple, which is just what you need for a toddler. Forks on the left, spoons on the right.

The book uses rhyming couplets to keep the rhythm, and the drawings are cartoonish. The point isn't to teach your children anything about dinosaurs anymore than Arthur is meant to teach them about aardvarks. It's all just fun.

I enjoyed the quick read, given my daughter's (and sometimes my) short attention span. My five-year-old son also enjoyed the pictures, but the story is a little below his level.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

How the biblical writers interpreted Scripture

Many people, myself included, have had difficulty understanding why the New Testament authors quote and reference the Old Testament the way that they do. I have heard many people say that the New Testament writers were unique, inspired by God, and we should not attempt to imitate them. That never set right with me. Enter Abner Chou. His recently published book, The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers: Learning to Interpret Scripture from the Prophets and Apostles, argues the opposite.

The basic premise of the book is that the New Testament authors adopted the interpretive method of the Old Testament prophets when reading the Scriptures. Chou demonstrates that the Old Testament prophets themselves interacted with earlier texts, interpreting them and drawing out applications both for their present day as well as future fulfillment by a coming Messiah. By the time we encounter these New Testament citations, they come with a whole background of interpretation and application that modern readers must recognize.

Chou works through multiple examples, such as Matthew’s quotation of Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” He shows how Hosea used earlier Scriptures, looking to God for a new exodus, hope in a new Davidic king who acts as a representative of the nation. Seen in context, Matthew’s quotation makes a lot of sense.

Ultimately, I enjoyed reading this book because it helped me see better that “the prophets wrote better than we give them credit for” (95). The New Testament writers were not misusing Scripture, rather they were using and applying Old Testament passages with intricate connections to other passages. These connections must be traced out to fully understand what the New Testament authors were trying to communicate.

I highly recommend this book, although I must say it reads much like a dissertation. “Skim reading“ will suffice most readers. The sections dealing with specific instances of the New Testament quoting the Old are worth reading in their entirety, as are the introduction and conclusion of each chapter.

I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of writing this review.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Spurgeon on the Christian Life

I am becoming a bit of a Charles Spurgeon aficionado. When offered the chance to receive a review copy of Spurgeon on the Christian Life from Crossway books, I couldn't say no. I've read and watched biographies of Spurgeon's life, read books, and recently added two volumes of his Lost Sermons to my library. What sets this book apart is its focus on the central themes of Spurgeon's ministry and his thinking about the Christian life.

Michael Reeves organizes the book into four sections: a look at the man himself, the centrality of Christ in his teaching, his emphasis on the new birth, and his thoughts on the new life of a believer. Chapters address his preaching, grace, suffering, the final glory, and more. Reeves also looks into the influence of the Puritans on him, particularly John Bunyan and his classic works Pilgrim's Progress and The Holy War. Throughout the book Spurgeon's own words take center stage and readers are treated to the man's thoughts just as he shared them with readers and congregations in the mid- to late-1800s.

Reeves writes in a way that shows his admiration of Spurgeon while still acknowledging Spurgeon's struggles. Had Reeves not mentioned up front that he is a member of the Church of England, I would have taken him for a Baptist given the way he speaks of Spurgeon. And that's the point. Spurgeon is a man to be admired, regardless of your personal convictions about believer's baptism. As Reeves put it, "He offers a robustly biblical and thoroughly rounded theology of the Christian life that deserves to be read by all—and all the more for the sheer zing with which he says it."

I'm glad to recommend this book to all who would seek to learn a little more about the Christian life and this extraordinary man who lived it.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Rethinking Politics and Faith

I picked up a review copy of How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age because of the confusion and fog I've been in following the 2016 presidential election. I've known America to be divided politically, but I've not seen it so much so in the church as during that year. I wanted to read Jonathan Leeman's book because I haven't been able to fully think through my faith and politics on my own.

Leeman is a pastor in the Washington, D.C. area and he too has seen and experienced political division in his church. In this book he carefully considers multiple subjects Christians need to think through. His chapter on the public square exposes the lie that we need to be neutral, not bringing God and our faith into our politics. In truth, every person, whether they worship God, Allah, work, or self is bringing their beliefs and values into their politics. We should not leave God out of ours. He looks at how and when the Bible should influence our involvement in politics and the planks that make up our political platform. He also addresses how we should view government, including what authority God has actually given it, and how we should understand the interplay of justice and rights.

The book is a challenge to hit the reset button and turn to God's word as the source of our thoughts and actions relating to politics, rather than our cultural backgrounds and political parties. I found the book easy to read, and challenging to make a greater effort to participate in the public square. Highly recommended.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Cross and Christian Ministry

Some years ago my pastor told me to stock my library with anything by D. A. Carson. Baker Books recently issued a reprint of his 1980 classic The Cross and Christian Ministry, and graciously offered me a copy for review. Now having read it, I'd recommend it as the first book of Carson's to pick up and read. I enjoyed it so much, I bought a digital copy as well.

The book is based on a series of lectures Carson gave on 1 Corinthians 1-4 and 9, which gives the book its subtitle: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians. Carson taps into a core truth about Paul's letter to the Corinthians and the foundation of his entire ministry: Christ and him crucified. The gospel, the good news, is the center. Carson shows how Paul's grasp of the gospel dictated his entire approach to ministry, from identifying the root cause of the world's hostility to our message, to correcting self-righteous attitudes and factionalism, to laying down our rights in service to others, to learning what it really means to become all things to all people.

I am one of those people who brings a pencil and a straight-edged bookmark to my books. I found myself underlining, starring, and writing things like "Excellent point!" and "Amen" throughout the book. Carson manages to capture the essential point of the passages he's dealing with time and time again. The book itself is worth reading time and time again. I suspect that mine will be a well-worn copy before too long, and that's not a bad thing.