Thursday, August 11, 2016

God Gave Us Thankful Hearts (children's book)

Lisa Bergren is the bestselling author of the God Gave Us... book series that usually feature a polar bear family learning about the many things God has given us. They're great books, and my kids have a few of them on their bookshelf.

She has a new book out this month just in time for the fall. It's called God Gave us Thankful Hearts. It features a new illustrator and new protagonists, a wolf family. The story involves a little wolf pup who's sad about the changing seasons and his friends going into hibernation for the winter. His mama teaches him that even when things don't go the way we want them to, God has given us much to be thankful for.

I read it to my 3- and 4-year-old kids and they enjoyed it. I'd ask them questions throughout and they showed they were following right along. They love reading with dad, but I'm pretty sure they liked the book too.

As dad, I'm glad the kids were taken in with all the pictures. The polar bear books sometimes lack a lot of detail (the arctic isn't exactly a splash of color), but these ones were packed with it. There were animals on every page and colorful backgrounds that hit all my fall nostalgia buttons. They live in a log cabin, rake leaves, walk through the woods, go fishing, go through a corn maze, and pick apples at an orchard, which they then turn into caramel apples.

I highly recommend this book. It breaths new life into the series and was a joy to read to my kids.

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

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A little book on discipleship


Some years ago Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., wrote Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, which has grown into a ministry aimed at helping believers develop these nine characteristics in their churches. This ministry recently launched the 9Marks: Building Health Churches series. The books are made up of a little over 100 pages and are intended to provide a short, readable overview of each of the nine marks.

Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus is the newest title in this series and was written by Dever himself. In it he answers the question, What does it look like to help others become more like Christ? To do this, he breaks the book up into three sections addressing the what, where, and how of discipling. Dever boils discipleship down to the basic idea of “deliberately doing spiritual good to someone so that he or she will be more like Christ” (p.13). He advocates for the primacy of the local church in discipling, and then rounds out the book with some solid principles for going about it.

I like these “back-to-the-basics” kinds of books, especially as a ministry leader. It’s so easy to get into the rut of how things have always been done or to be swamped by day-to-day responsibilities that we fail to step back and see the bigger picture. I need to be reminded to step back and assess how what I’m doing compares with what I ought to be doing. All those competing responsibilities mean time is tight. Being able to read a book like this in a day or two is refreshing and lets me do a quick course correction that a big, thick book on theology doesn’t.

The most impactful part of the book for me was the last chapter, where Dever talks about the importance of raising up leaders. He gives special emphasis to advancing trust and delegating responsibility. Pastors are charged with guarding the doctrinal integrity of their churches, and this can lead them to be too controlling over who can lead a small group or how independent others can be in their decision-making.

In short, I recommend the book in particular and the series as a whole. Besides, anything by Mark Dever is worth reading.

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

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Peru mission trip: an important deadline is approaching

It’s getting down to the wire. The first deposit ($1,800) for my October mission trip to Peru is due by next Friday, August 5. Based on what has already come in and what I know is in the mail, I am currently $450 short of that amount. The overall cost of the trip is $2400, which covers airfare, lodging, food, and materials for the attendees.

I'm grateful for those who have already donated. If you've considered donating, but have been waiting, now is a great time. In order ensure it’s added to my total, you can give online directly to Reaching & Teaching here: www.egsnetwork.com/gift2?giftid=1EF91E68F77C49C.

Be sure to put my name, ANDREW WENCL, in the notes field.

If you'd like to give by check, you can write it out to Reaching & Teaching and mail it to

Reaching and Teaching
PO Box 122
Wheaton, IL 60187

Please include with the check (not on the check) a note with my name and "Chazuta October 2016 Trip."

Even if you're not in a position to give towards the trip, I'm still grateful for your prayers, especially as the deadline for the deposit draws near. Whether you donate, pray, or both, please send me a message to know that you did. It's encouraging to know that others are lifting me up to God in their prayers.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Berenstain Bears


I like reading to my children, and I like good deals. Even though my wife takes the kids to the library about once a week, I still like to get new books for the kids’ bookshelf, so I’m always looking for a good deal, and one of the greatest deals I have found are “# books in 1” volumes.



I recently snagged a review copy of The Berenstain Bears' Caring and Sharing Treasury, which is made up of five separate books:



Jobs Around Town
Get Involved
Love Their Neighbors
The Biggest Brag
Gossip Gang



I love the Berenstain Bears. They were a staple of my childhood reading, and I’m glad they continue to be published so I can share them with the kids. They’ve taken on more religious overtones than when I was young, but they’re always appropriate to the story—it doesn’t feel tacky like a Philippians 4:13 coffee mug.



Jobs Around Town explores the different jobs the bear cubs might have when they grow up, and it portrays all kinds of jobs as having dignity and value.



Get Involved shows the cubs involved in a church scouting organization that helps out in the community during a flood.



Love Their Neighbors was my favorite. It’s a retelling of the Good Samaritan story that teaches how you treat people is more important than your social standing.



The Biggest Brag involves an argument between Brother and Sister and their grandfather teaching them how silly they are.



Gossip Gang teaches that gossip is a mean way for people to feel better about themselves to the harm of others.



I’d recommend this book to anyone with young kids. It teaches children about character and reinforces Bible teaching they should be learning at church and in the home. Having 5 books in 1 makes it a great deal.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Going deeper with New Testament Greek

I decided to make 2016 the year I would try to pick up my biblical Greek again after a lapse in practicing for a couple years. One of the most helpful resources I’ve found is the 2-4 minute video clips on the Daily Dose of Greek website Robert Plummer, my seminary professor, created a little while ago. He works through a verse or a part of a verse in each video, translating, parsing verbs, and commenting on the grammar. Because the videos are so short, I’m able to refresh my memory and learn new concepts all with a minimal time investment.

I discovered that he had worked on an intermediate Greek grammar that was due to come out in June, so I contacted the publisher and requested a copy of it to review. After carefully working through quite a few chapters, I have to say Going Deeper with New Testament Greek is just the kind of book I needed to help me pick up my Greek and keep using it going forward.

Plummer didn’t write the book by himself. It’s a collaboration of other Greek teachers including Andreas K√∂stenberger and Benjamin Merkle. Together they’ve produced something that not only teaches, but allows readers to practice what they’re learning as they go. Each chapter is laid out the same way, so by highlighting each chapter’s features, I’ll show you just how useful this book is:

Going Deeper
The authors introduce each chapter with a practical example demonstrating how the subject of the chapter applies to reading and understanding the New Testament. Most of these examples correct errors that I’ve heard (and quite likely propagated at one time or another). Even before I started reading this book I made a commitment to myself not to use the phrase, “In the original Greek this means…” when preaching unless absolutely necessary. Rabbit trail aside, the examples serve as strong reminders that studying these grammatical concepts are important. I particularly liked the discussion about whether the Lord’s Prayer directs us to pray that God would deliver us “from evil” or “from the evil one” and the matter of whether “go” in Matthew 28:19 should be “going” instead.

Chapter Objectives
This gives a brief outline of the chapter.

Body
The bulk of the chapter is dedicated to discussion of its subject matter. The material is broken up into various headings and subheadings for easy navigation. The authors also provide multiple examples to show how these concepts play out in the New Testament. They also interact with other Greek grammars, allowing the reader to understand how these grammatical concepts are addressed by other scholars.

Summary
Readers already familiar with a given concept may benefit from skipping to the Summary at the end of the chapter, which consists of charts and tables condensing the chapter’s material into a handy reference table. I would have liked to see all these tables reprinted at the end of the book as an easy access reference guide, but this is only a minor complaint.

Practice Exercises
Ten exercises are included at the end of each chapter to reinforce the lesson, and most if not all of the verses used come right from the chapter itself. This feature is quite unique, as most grammars either sell a separate workbook or fail to include any exercises whatsoever. I found that if the answer wasn’t forthcoming the Summary charts usually helped me figure it out in no time.

Vocabulary
Even after a couple years of not practicing my Greek, I was still able to recognize by sight or by context most of the words in the sentences that I should have memorized in my beginning Greek classes. Words that appear 50 or more times in the New Testament are included in the back of the book. The vocabulary section at the end of the chapter for the reader to memorize includes words that appear between 15 and 49 times. There are also words appearing less frequently than 15 times to recognize, which comes in handy in the next section.

Reading the New Testament
This was my favorite section. The reader is given a passage of Scripture to read in Greek. The passage has numerous examples of the chapter’s grammatical concept(s), and the uncommon words in the “to recognize” vocabulary section come from the passage, so you don’t need a lexicon to find a definition if you get stuck. After reading the passage, the authors include a verse-by-verse commentary on the grammar and vocabulary of the passage.

I should also point out that the last few chapters provide even more helps for the aspiring Greek student, including resources for continued study, sentence diagramming (a lot more fun than you might think), word studies, and more.


This has been the most helpful resource I’ve worked with so far in picking up my Greek, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to stay current with their language skills.

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Lifehacks Bible?

I’ve benefited from YouTube videos and internet articles on lifehacks. What’s a lifehack? A lifehack is any tip, trick, or tool for doing something easier or more effectively. There are lifehacks for packing your suitcase, saving money at the grocery store, and a whole host of other activities we engage in everyday. Because these ideas are so useful, I was intrigued by the NIV Lifehacks Bible offered to me for review.

Whereas the title may sound a little hokey, the actual product beat my expectations. Remember all the jokes people made about the iPad? It turned out to be a phenomenal product. What sets this Bible apart is its 365 articles aimed at introducing believers to spiritual disciplines in order to develop habits that will help them grow and mature in their faith. This isn’t a Bible with a built-in encyclopedia, nor is it full of Chicken Soup for the Soul stories. It’s just a Bible interlaced with one-page articles on topics such as Scripture memorization, evangelism, giving, prayer, reading the Bible, and much more.

Joe Carter, best known for his regular blogging on The Gospel Coalition website, cites and quotes numerous well-known and respected Christian authors, including D.A. Carson, Tim Keller, Tony Reinke, David Murray, Tim Challies, C.S. Lewis, R.C. Sproul, Francis Schaeffer—the list goes on!

I would have benefitted greatly from a Bible like this when I was in high school or college because those were times when I was working on developing spiritual disciplines in my own life. The articles help by teaching not only why, but offering principles for developing godly habits. By God’s grace I do practice the spiritual disciplines, but it’s been a bumpy road with piecemeal guidance along the way. A resource like this would have made for a more direct route to practicing the spiritual disciplines.


As someone who’s been a student and someone who’s led student ministry at church, I highly recommend it.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

My go-to Psalms commentary

I like Bible commentaries, and between my digital libraries on Logos and Kindle and my office bookshelves, I’ve amassed quite a few. It doesn’t take very long to discover that some are better than others. Even in commentary sets, there are usually a few stellar contributions and some that are just ho hum. One series that I’ve found to be stellar again and again is the Kregel Exegetical Library series. I reviewed theinaugural volume on Psalms 1-41 by Allen P. Ross back in 2012 and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’ve been particularly fond Ross’ contributions, as well as Garrett’s volume on Exodus (a must have) and Chisholm’s volume on Judges-Ruth.

Ross’ three-volume set on the Psalms is now complete with another 1,000-page entry on Psalms 90-150. This fine contribution comes out of decades of seminary teaching, including classes on biblical Hebrew and the Old Testament. His C.V. must be pretty impressive, as he’s also written an introduction to biblical Hebrew and commentaries on Genesis and Leviticus.

This commentary shows he knows how to handle Hebrew, but he saves most of his technical asides for the footnotes. Those who have a desire to get into the weeds of Hebrew vocabulary and grammar (I admit it, I’m one), and foray into those notes, but others who either don’t have the time, the interest, or the linguistic background can skip over them and focus on the main text, which is devotional and expositional.

Because the first volume handled the introductory materials, this volume looks at each Psalm individually. Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, is dealt with in sections, since it’s unlikely anyone would preach or teach through the entire Psalm in one setting. Ross provides exegetical and expository outlines to identify and explain the Psalm’s message and meaning before bringing the read to personal application. I’ve used this set for sermon preparation as well as devotional enjoyment.

Together, his three volumes thus far amount to about 3,000 pages, which may seem like a bit much to those who haven’t made much use of commentaries or to those who have only used single-volume commentaries, but I assure you that there is nothing extraneous or dull. The font is actually somewhat larger than other commentary series I’ve owned, so you’d be surprised how much ground you can cover in a mere 15 minutes or half hour of reading.


If you desire to understand the Psalms for yourself and be equipped to faithfully teach them, I can’t recommend a more accessible or thorough commentary.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for purposes of review.