Thursday, January 19, 2017

Help for preaching the Old Testament

I've been preaching off and on now for about six years. During that time my favorite and probably best sermons came from a series I did on Daniel. When offered the opportunity to receive a review copy of Preaching Old Testament Narratives from Kregel Publications, I had to take it. I'm glad I did.

Benjamin Walton, formerly a pastor, is president of PreachingWorks, an organization that helps pastors become better preachers. Walton argues that Old Testament Narratives shouldn't be preached like New Testament epistles, prophecy, or other biblical genres. For one thing, a complete unit of thought (CUT) in the Old Testament may encompass a number of chapters, whereas a CUT in the New Testament may be as short as a paragraph or two. Old Testament narratives describe more than they prescribe, whereas New Testament epistles are filled with exhortations and succinct theological truths. Even where a command or expectation is clearly spelled out in the Old Testament, it requires careful analysis in light of the full revelation of the gospel in Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

Since the quality of a sermon depends first on a proper understanding of the text, Walton guides readers through the process of identifying a complete unit of thought, considering the theological and historical contexts, and studying the CUT in order to determine the original theological message (OTM) that author was communicating to his audience. This in turn will lead to an appropriate take-home truth (THT) in light of the fuller revelation of the gospel.

I admit that the acronyms were a little distracting at first, but having "complete unit of thought" or "original theological message" spelled out every time would have been even more distracting in certain sections of the book, so I'm glad he did it.

Half of the book focuses on developing the sermon, and the second half looks at delivery. He considers popular approaches to preaching and assesses their strengths and weaknesses before delving into his own method. Walton emphasizes the purpose behind the introduction, particularly building rapport with the audience and showing them the relevance of the message about to be preached. As he moves through the rest of the sermon Walton provides numerous examples and tips for preaching that, if put into practice, are sure to improve our preaching.

I told my wife that I liked the book because it made me want to preach again. That alone should be enough to commend it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Boy Called Christmas

I enjoy good stories. Give me adventure. Give me a quest, a journey into the unknown. Give me magic. Make me laugh. A Boy Called Christmas does all these and more. Matt Haig introduces us to an eleven-year-old boy named Nikolas who lives in the second-smallest cottage in all of Finland with his father, a woodcutter; a mouse; and a doll carved out of an old turnip. After his father fails to return from an expedition north to find proof of the existence of elves, Nikolas’s embarks on his own journey to find him. Throughout the story the narrator offers humorous asides, and Nikolas’s adventures are quite humorous as well.

I realize the intended audience is children between 8 and 12, but my kindergartener can follow along well, and my adult self enjoyed it immensely. In spite of the overall jovial tone of the book, there are a few moments of danger and even death that may upset younger readers, but I don’t have any reservations about sharing it with my daughter.

Because my daily commute offers me a good hour or so to listen to audiobooks, I enjoyed Nikolas’s story on CD. The narration by Stephen Fry (a British comedian famous for his skits with Hugh Laurie and appearances on Blackadder) is superb. I highly recommend it.

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

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Baa! Oink! Moo! God Made the Animals

My youngest just turned one and does not sit still for books for very long yet, even when I flip through them quickly and don't read all the words. Yet that doesn't stop her from going to her basket of books, picking one out, and bringing it to me to read to her, even if for only ten seconds at a time. We introduced our kids to books at a young age, and they have the expectation that mom and dad will read to them on most days.

When I saw the cover of Baa! Oink! Moo! God Made the Animals available for review from the publisher, I knew I wanted a copy. Sure enough, my 1-year-old liked the pictures and I've been able to get her to sit and look at it with me a couple of times now. She even let me read it all the way through when she was down with a cold, but normally I can only get off a quick "God made the chickens" or "Look at the pigs" before having to flip the page to keep her attention.

I love how sturdy board books are, and the pictures are interesting enough to grab my daughter's attention for a few moments. I'm sure that in a few months we'll be able to sit for longer periods and read every word on the page.

I'm glad to have books like Baa! Oink! Moo! God Made the Animals to remind my kids that God is their creator. It might not leave much of an impact on my youngest beyond teaching her the routine of reading, but my other two are listening, and they know that their daddy believes these things.


Monday, December 19, 2016

A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament

It's been a few years since my last New Testament Greek class, and I've been working on retaining (or re-obtaining) my language skills this past year. Some books have been more helpful than others, and in my quest for more useful resources I was offered a review copy of A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament from Kregel Publications.

The book is intended for use alongside a Greek New Testament (preferably a reader's edition that gives a translation for uncommon words at the bottom of the page) and a lexicon, although most New Testaments have a functional lexicon in the back. Whereas those other resources are helpful for figuring out what a word may mean, the syntax guide helps readers understand how the grammar and sentence-level structure determine meaning. Just as a foreign exchange student studying English might understand each of the words in the phrase "in a pinch" without grasping the meaning (in a difficult situation), so too a student of New Testament Greek may have an idea of what all the words mean without understanding how they relate to each other to make meaning.

The best way to evaluate a resources like this is to use it. I had A Syntax Guide out on the table with my Reader's Greek New Testament and my Logos iPhone app to help me read through Galatians. I found that prepositional phrases tended to cause me the most trouble, and notes like "διὰ + interval of time = after," "ἐν ἐμοὶ = in my case" and "ὁ δὲ μεσίτης ἑνὸς οὐκ ἔστιν = now a mediator is not for one party only" made reading easier. Other times word order or a pronoun for which I couldn't place the referent noun was throwing me off, but A Syntax Guide set me back on track. Sometimes it's the simple things that slow me down. 

I admit that I'm not very advanced when it comes to reading my Greek New Testament. I'm pretty dependent on external resources like Bible software or a good English translation. A Syntax Guide is a nice tool to have. It's not essential, but in tandem with other resources, it's proven valuable to my own studies.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Sardines in my stocking!

Christmas stockings are amazing.  They serve as decorations all December until that one day when they're stuffed to the brim (and over) with treats and goodies. I have forgotten many of the presents I got, but I know what was in my stocking. I can’t remember a Christmas past when my stocking didn’t have almost all of the following:


Candy cane

Assorted Palmer’s chocolates

Assorted fun size candy bars

Chocolate Santa



Can of sardines


You're probably thinking, who would eat that? I admit that it seems a little strange, but I'm not making it up. My dad actually put an orange in there.

Despite my mother’s complaints that sardines made my breath perfectly rancid, I loved them, as did my little sister. They were a special treat because of how rarely we got them and who we got to eat them with: dad. The peanuts and orange were supposed to balance out the chocolate and help fill the stocking without emptying the wallet. My dad told us that when he was a kid, getting fresh fruit in your stocking was a very special treat. I’m glad he passed on the traditional orange while making room for a can of sardines as well.


My own kids usually get smaller presents along with their candy in their stockings. Last year we got Lukas and Abby each a movie that sat at the top of their stockings, and I want to continue doing that each year until my kids consider it as indispensable a Christmas tradition as the oranges that they too find at the bottom of their stockings. I still haven’t introduced them to the pleasure of a good sardine. Maybe this year…

Monday, December 12, 2016

Martin Luther

The year 1517 is widely considered the start of the Protestant Reformation when Martin Luther penned his 95 theses and nailed them to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral.  Since next year will be the 500th anniversary of this momentous occasion, you can expect a lot of attention to Martin Luther in the coming months. It's fitting, then, that Simonetta Carr, author of the excellent Christian Biographies for Young Readers series, has released her tenth title on this Reformer.

You don't have to look far to find a decent biography of Luther. I've watched some on YouTube, listened to countless sermons and lectures available online, read books, and even listened to audiobooks. With so many resources available, what does Simonetta Carr have to offer? Plenty.

First, her biography on Luther is a high-quality work in it's own right. It's a durable hardcover that, when combined with other titles in her series, looks beautiful on a bookshelf. The beauty only starts with the cover. Inside on each of its wide pages are period artwork, historical maps, photos of important places, and Troy Howell's fantastic illustrations of moments from Luther's life. They constantly remind readers that these events really happened to real people. My kids always seem more surprised by reality than by fiction, and their genuine interest and surprise at hearing these facts for the first time always gives me the joy of seeing their wonder.

The writing is aimed at children in the 7-12 age range, but even my 5-year-old stays interested as I read to her and show her the pictures. Carr does not whitewash Luther's history, though she does reserve the more negative information about Luther (such as his harsh language and verbal attacks against the Jews) for the Did you know? section at the end of the book. Given the scope of the book and it's size, it's not surprising that Carr didn't dwell on the more controversial moments of Luther's life.

I wish I had read more biographies when I was a kid. Actually, I wish I had read more, period. As a Christian parent, I want my kids to learn about my faith, and I pray that one day they will embrace it as their own. By sharing these biographies with them, they learn not only from my example, but from the examples of believers throughout history.

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