Monday, June 30, 2008

Book Review: Mormonism Explained

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Jackson, Andrew. 2008. Mormonism Explained: What Latter-day Saints Teach & Practice.

"My goal in writing Mormonism Explained was to present a concise and thorough introduction to what Latter-day Saints (LDS) officially teach and practice today primarily for the broad Christian audience, although I also wrote it for interested non-Christians and Mormons." (9)

Well-written. Well-organized. Well-documented. It's easy, straight-forward, clear, and concise. The first three chapters explore "the origins of mormonism," the middle four chapters explore "what mormonism teaches and why," and the final three chapters explore "the salvation of mormonism." There are also four appendixes including the 13 articles of LDS faith, an explanation/introduction of the organizational structure of the LDS faith, a glossary of LDS terminology, and a thorough bibliography of sources both Christian and Mormon.

Definitely interesting. Definitely something I'd recommend. You can read an excerpt here.

In Mormonism Explained you’ll read about...

  • The charismatic founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, his successes, moral failings, and claims to have received new revelations from God.
  • Fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith’s claim that all Christian Churches were an abomination to God.
  • The dramatic details of the Mormon's western journey from New York to Salt Lake City.
  • The motivation behind LDS' audacious claim to be the one and only true church on earth.
  • The LDS belief in continual revelation and their four Scriptural books.
  • Why the LDS believe that they are literally God's children, and that they lived in a previous life before being born on earth.
  • What the LDS really mean by salvation, and their exclusive belief in salvation for the dead.

About the Author

Andrew Jackson (M.Div., Fuller Theological Seminary; D.Min., Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is a seminary professor and an ordained minister in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. He has traveled to the original homelands of all the primary religions of the world, taught world religions on the college level, is an author of numerous books and a blogger at Dr. Jackson is presently working on his next book, Islam Explained: What Muslims Teach and Practice.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Update Bible & Sermons

My Bible reading has been a little skimpier than I'd like. I have read John 4-7. And I have read Galatians again. (It is the book we're studying in Sunday I've read it probably three times this summer.) But I haven't read much the past few days. I think Wednesday or Thursday was the last day I got some time in.

I *did* start reading MORMONISM EXPLAINED and it is fabulous. Just fabulous. So well done.

As far as sermons go, I've listened to five IN HIS GRIP sermons. Treasures of Faith Introduction, Faith Defined part 1 & 2, and Worshipping Covenantally 1 & 2. This is a sermon series on Hebrews, I think Hebrews 11 specifically, and it is great so far. I look forward to continuing on with it. I got it as a podcast back in 2006. But I'm just now getting to it. Sad but true.

For Bethlehem Bible Church, I've gone backwards instead of forwards. I discovered that the prayer series started a few weeks before I thought it did. So I listened to Praying Like God Is Your Father part one. Again, I listened to it about two or three times. I know I'll eventually get to all these sermons, but I'm not feeling the need to rush through. Better to absorb and learn than just rush through to say you're done.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Second Update on Bible Reading

Since my last post on Bible reading, I've read Proverbs 4-6. I've read John 1-4. (Read actually read not just watched.) And I've read the book of Galatians which is six chapters. I might come back and share some highlights, further thoughts, ponderings, etc. But I just wanted to make a quick jot of what I'd done over the past three or four days.
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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Semi-Weekly Update

I was able to read three chapters of Proverbs--I think it was Monday/Tuesdayish that I got them read. Since I'm a night owl, up to the wee morning hours, I am never quite sure what day it should *officially* count on.

When I was reading Proverbs, there were a few things that stood out for me. Especially in chapter three. Proverbs 3:5-7 was one of the first verses I memorized as a kid. It is a verse that if you could actually follow through with it you could have a very good life--a healthy life, a spiritually sound life.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and turn away from evil. (NASB)

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. (ESV)

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don't try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he's the one who will keep you on track. Don't assume that you know it all. Run to God! Run from evil! (The Message)

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. (NIV)

Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Don't be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the LORD and turn away from evil. (NLT)

I could probably meditate on this one day and night for weeks and still find depth in it. It's against human nature to trust. For some it comes easier than others. It's especially against human nature to trust in God. But it is really really really against human nature to NOT "lean on our own understanding." That comes easily, naturally. It's always easier for me to think that my way is the right way, the smart way, the wise way. It's always easier to think that I know what is best for me. It's also easy for people to think that they know best for other people. To trust in God? To be dependent on God? To do his will in all things? That's not easy. That's not natural.

"In All Your Ways Acknowledge Him." Ouch. As if the whole trust thing wasn't hard enough. It's REALLY REALLY REALLY easy to compartmentalize your life. To have parts, sections, areas where God is invited in, where you welcome him in, and other areas where you like to think you're in control. Areas that you think are private, exclusive, unknown to God. Of course, God knows all, sees all, hears all. But we like to act, to behave, to live like he isn't aware of what is really really going on. Like if we invited God to see all the ugly scary parts, the parts we're most ashamed of, the sinful areas of life that we still cling to, that we'd be too afraid of the consequences. Something would have to give. And we're afraid that something would be us. Maybe I'm taking the verse out of context. Maybe it doesn't mean that we should live our lives as if God was right there with us. But I see it as meaning as we should live our lives wide open, acknowledging his presence, acknowledging his RIGHT to rule over EACH and EVERY part of our lives. It means to me that it isn't enough to just give God control over teeny bits of our lives. He's there for it all. We need to be trusting him in all ways. Not trusting in God for this and that, but ourselves for the rest of what we have.

It's scary, but I think in some ways it's an all or nothing deal. We either trust him or we don't. We either let him be in control, live like he is LORD of our lives, or we don't.

It's a very scary thought.

Fear the Lord.

In some ways it's not easy to puzzle out what it means to fear the LORD. In some ways I think it means seeing the GREATNESS of God and the smallness of man. Of realizing that we don't measure up. Not at all. Not even a little bit. It's like acknowledging that he's got all the power, we've got all the need. Of realizing that we're not as smart as good as we think we are. Of realizing that we're very much in need of a Savior and of a Lord. It's realizing that God's boss and we're not.

Sometimes it's easier to think these kinds of thoughts than it is to actually live them out in practice. I know that I often forget. I think it's easy to take God for granted. I think it is REALLY easy to shrug off sin. To shrug off our mistakes, our regrets. And if we've taken those sins, those regrets, those mistakes...if we've repented. If we've asked for forgiveness...I think those sins can be put away, washed away. We don't need to live in constant reminder of those. But just as quickly as we're repenting of one sin, we're often putting on another. Maybe not the same sin. But whether it be in thought or in action or in speech, we're always going to be messing up and needing forgiveness. We're never going to be perfect on this side of Heaven. But maybe living in Fear of the Lord means that we don't just wash our hands of the whole affair and go about merrily sinning with the philosophy of oh-I-might-as-well-sin-all-I-like right now, today, this week, this month, this year...and I'll repent later.

I don't have it all puzzled out. It's too rich in some ways.

Turn Away From Evil.

Oh my. I wish it was easier to turn TO God and AWAY from evil. Why is sin so delicious to cling to?  It's human nature at work again. I know that. This brings to mind Romans 7. Fortunately, there are the wonderful promises found in Romans 5 and Romans 8.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:6-10)

In other news....

I watched the first four chapters of THE GOSPEL OF JOHN. I don't know if that quite counts as Bible reading. But it is word-for-word from the Good News Translation I believe so it maybe counts. Anyway, it's definitely a film I'd recommend.
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Friday, June 13, 2008

Book Review: Worship Matters

Kauflin, Bob. 2008. Worship Matters: Leading Others To Encounter the Greatness of God.

Worship Matters is primarily for worship leaders, musicians, and pastors. However, it does have secondary value to those readers interested in this theological aspect of our lives as Christian believers. My dad and my sister--at various points in their lives--have been part of worship teams. I've witnessed--second hand if you will--the stress and pleasure (the love-hate relationship) that comes from planning and leading worship for a congregation. Picking the songs. Learning new songs. Dealing with burn-out. Feeling under-appreciated. Feeling like there's never enough time. Feeling alone as well. Like the audience, the congregation, just doesn't care what is happening. (And dealing with difficult people). It's a heavy responsibility. The idea that the songs you pick, that you play have an impact on the message of your church. That the Holy Spirit can and does use your work to minister to people. This book isn't about musical styles so much as it is about exploring what worship is. It's worship defined, explained, showcased. It's broad in scope and it does offer food for thought along with some practical tips. The practical tips weren't why I was reading it, but it may very well be a reason why you'd want to pick it up.

It's well written. It's relevant. It's timely even. It's rich-in-detail. The chapters are just the right length as well. There's enough substance to make this informative and useful. But it's not weighed down either. It's not so dense that the average person couldn't benefit from reading and studying it. It's reader-friendly.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Summer Goals Meme

I did this meme over at my other site, my main site, Becky's Book Reviews. I thought I'd make Christian related goals as well.

1. To read at least one of the four gospels this summer.
2. To read three of the NT letters
3. To read at least one OT book this summer.
4. To listen to at least three of my sermon podcasts a week all summer long.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Book Review: Taking Back The Good Book

Taking Back the Good Book: How America Forgot the Bible and Why It Matters To You by Woodrow Kroll, 2007. (Crossway)

I loved, loved, loved this book. It had me at hello:

Do you remember your first Bible? I remember mine. It was red--the color; it was also read--the verb. I had a little trouble reading my first Bible because in those days I wasn't used to much more than "See Dick run. Run, Dick, run." But with time and practice, I got better at it. (11)

The message of the book is that whether people say they love the Bible, honor the Bible, respect the Bible, believe the Bible is important...the truth of the matter is that few people actually read it on a regular basis. People might think they ought to read the Bible; people might know that they should read the Bible. But one excuse after another keeps them away from actually doing it. So what has happened to the church, to the culture, to the country is that we've now reached a point where Bible illiteracy is rampant. Even within churches, there are many sitting there who are absolutely clueless when it comes to what the Bible actually says and what it means. It is a problem affecting people of every generation--from children to baby boomers. Somewhere along the way, it became "okay" even within the evangelical community to be biblically illiterate and spiritually naive.

What is Bible Illiteracy?
Bible illiteracy has more to do with inattention than inability. For our purposes here when I talk about Bible illiteracy in America, the definition relates to a lack of familiarity with the Bible, not to a lack of ability to read it. Bible illiteracy is not the unfortunate, unintentional inability to read and understand Scripture; it is the unfortunate, intentional neglect of Scripture. (58)

So how does Kroll define Bible literacy?
Reading [the Bible] is fundamental, but it isn't enough. You have to read the Bible and then interpret it and apply it to your life. Those are the initial steps in Bible literacy. They are also the first steps toward spiritual maturity. (58)

Biblical illiteracy is causing many problems within and without the church and evangelical community, but it isn't too late. Kroll outlines some important steps that everyone can take to reverse the situation. It all starts with you. It involves your time and your discipline. But it can be done. It should be done.

A huge disconnect exists between owning a Bible and reading it. Simply put, the number of people who claim to read the Bible isn't supported by their knowledge of the Bible (66).

Some people choose not to read the Bible because they're afraid it will contradict what they've already made up their mind to do. But the Bible isn't a dialogue between God and us. It's a revelation from him to us. The Bible should be our guide to life, not a sometimes-support for our pre-existing belief system. (71)

The Bible is read by people who choose to read it. Bible reading is neglected by people who choose to neglect it. It's just that simple. No excuses. Just honesty. (77)

When you win the battle for Bible literacy in your own life, you not only discover the joy of God, you are the joy of God. He delights in our getting to know him, and the most direct way to make that happen is by reading what he has revealed about himself in his Word (145).

If you don't take the Book in your life and read it consistently, you are saying to its Author, "I don't care enough about you or your Book to read it." That's what Bible literacy means to God. It means you love him, and you show it. It means you worship him, and you show it. It means you thirst for him, and you show it. Isn't it time we did some serious thinking about just how Bible-literate we are? Isn't it time for you to do some thinking? (151)

This book is for everyone. It doesn't matter how old you are (or aren't), this is a topic that concerns you--if you are in fact a Christian. It offers practical advice for everyone--including extra tips for parents, teachers, and pastors. But it has something to say for everyone. I can't recommend it highly enough!!!!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Bible Plans

Offers users thirteen different plans for reading the Bible. Simply choose a plan, choose a translation, and enter your email address to begin your readings.

Offers three reading plans, seven translations. Just choose what works best for you and create an account with the site. Your readings will be emailed daily.

While you can choose to receive this plan's readings by email, you can also choose to print this plan. (And/or download it as a pdf file) What is unique about this site is that it offers different categories (or foodgroups if you've read Kroll's book) of Bible reading for each day:

Sunday = Epistles
Monday = The Law
Tuesday = History
Wednesday = Psalms
Thursday = Poetry
Friday = Prophecy
Saturday = Gospels

This site offers a one year plan and a three year plan.

Offers five different plans for Bible reading.

Offers five different plans for Bible reading.

Offers a variety of reading plans at three different levels: beginner, intermediate, and advanced.

Chronological Reading Guide--ESV


You can read the passages online and/or listen to them!

Note: The links are for the first day in each month. But there are arrows directing you to the next day's reading and so forth. So it should be easy to manage from that point.

The Mission...

My goal--obvious as it may be--is to actually read the Bible. You might think that I've not read it. But that wouldn't be the case. I've read it a dozen or so times over the past twenty years. However, I've not been in the habit of reading it lately. For the past three or four years, my reading of the Bible has been pitiful to nil. I know--rationally speaking--that I NEED to read the Bible...that I NEED to study and read and pray. But it's not a part of my daily routine. Hence why I'm challenging myself to ACTUALLY read the Bible instead of just talking about how I need to start one day soon.