Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Reflections on the Law

It seems that one of the biggest turn-offs to non-Christians is the perception that there are a bunch of rules and that they would be missing out on something if they attempted to follow these rules. Even among believers it is common to find this same attitude. But this is not the picture that Scripture paints at all. Take Psalm 119 for example, the writer is not complaining that God's Laws are a burden to keep, but instead thanking God and praising Him for His mercy of giving His people direction through the Law. This whole Psalm, which is by no coincidence the longest chapter in the Bible, is nothing but praise for God's Laws, Decrees, Statutes, Word, and Commandments. Even in the beginning, before the fall, God gave His people directions(Gen. 1:26,28,29,2:15,16,17). God wasn't trying to spoil their fun, He was showing them how to live. Otherwise, how would Adam have known to take care of the garden, or what he could eat, or how to reproduce. Without God's direction, which is life(John 6:63), Adam and Eve would have died. The LORD was being merciful. After the fall, when the people of Israel were freed from slavery, God spoke to Moses giving them the Commandments and Laws. When first reading the books of the Law, such as Leviticus, it's easy to be overwhelmed with what all they have to keep. But like in the garden, Israel, after being enslaved needed to relearn how to live. So God, in His grace and mercy, told them what to do to be sanctified, or set apart. He told them how to make sacrifices that would be pleasing to Him and put them back in right standing with God. He gave them practical commandments so that disease wouldn't spread throughout the people. These Laws were not so much a burden on the people as much as they were God teaching His people how to truly live and be His people. Let us reflect and meditate on God's Word and the ways that He is mercifully giving us direction so that we no longer view what He says as a burden, but instead praise Him that we're not left to figure this life out on our own.

Grace and Peace,
matt j

Monday, October 28, 2013

Beyond the Frame by Andy Gullahorn


Andy Gullahorn is a special kind of artist. He has a way of creating music that is beautiful and extremely personable. Every album of his has been filled with witty songwriting, humor, and depth. Gullahorn’s fifth album, Beyond the Frame, is no exception.

Beyond the Frame, Andy GullahornThe album opens beautifully with “I Will,” where Gullahorn promises the listener a companion while going down this road of brokenness where many souls have gone, “if you want someone who will just cry with you, I can/ some say, there’s nothing they’re ashamed of/ they cover up the tracks from the hell where they’ve been/ if you’re looking for something broken, I am.”

“Any Less True” is one of those songs that puts into words feelings that resonate so true, “I said I’d love you all my life/ I never want to fail you/ and though I’ve done it a thousand times/ that doesn’t make it any less true.” This particular song is a personal favorite.

“Skinny Jeans” boasts the humorous songwriting that has come to be expected from Gullahorn. Not to mention it has a catchy tune.

Even “Line in the Sand” has a familiar feel to his past records, mixing a little humor with real life depth.
Beyond the Frame is full of songs about wrestling with God during heartbreak (“Nowhere to be Found”), love (“My Language”), and the only thing that matters in this life (“The Other Side”). There is such depth to this album that with each listen I pick up on something new.

As great an album as this is, I still skip a few tracks. “Same Song” becomes a bit mundane after a few listens and “Flash in the Pan” has little musical appeal to me. But even these songs are not bad; they just are not as good as the rest of the album which make them stick out.

Beyond the Frame is an absolutely fantastic record. Andy Gullahorn seems to get better with each release, and this album shows a real maturity both musically and lyrically. For existing fans of Gullahorn, this is a no-brainer. For those unfamiliar with his work, this is a great place to start. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Gospel Transformation Bible

RELEASE DATE: September 30, 2013

ESV Gospel Transformation BibleI have been a fan of Crossway’s work for a while now, investing in many books and Bibles, so when they announced they were coming out with the new Gospel Transformation Bible (GTB), I was extremely excited.

The GTB is a bit of a niche Bible. I do not think it is meant to be the one stop shop of Bibles where you learn everything about a particular text using this one book. But what the GTB does, it does very well

The ESV Study Bible was one of the first study Bibles that I ever really used (and still use) on a daily basis. It has become my gold standard for study Bibles; so, much of this review will be comparing the ESV Study Bible to the GTB.

The first thing I noticed when comparing the two were the notes. While the ESV Study Bible’s notes focus mainly on explaining the text in an exegetical fashion, the GTB shows how all of the Bible points to Christ. Then, it uses the gospel as motivation for applying the truths of Scripture. And it is absolutely beautiful. Flipping through the pages my heart swelled with joy as I saw Christ everywhere I looked.

Another noticeable difference between the GTB and the ESV Study Bible is that the GTB takes whole sections of Scripture and unpacks the gospel goodness whereas the ESV Study Bible pays closer attention to each individual verse. This took some getting used to since I was more familiar with the ESV Study Bible’s approach, but once I did I found it helped me read a bit more of the Bible, seeing the overarching sweep of the gospel rather than getting tied down to any particular verse.

As I said at the beginning of this review; the GTB is a niche Bible. For me, it is not the only Bible I’ll ever need, but it certainly has its place. I have found it most helpful during my devotions. This is usually not the time I am trying to decipher tough verses or do a deep study. I’ll pick up the ESV Study Bible for that. Instead, I try to use my devotional time to help my soul be happy in the LORD. To be glad in Him. And the Gospel Transformation Bible has a special way of making my soul happy.

I received this book for free from Crossway in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Wesley on the Christian Life by Fred Sanders


Wesley on the Christian LifeJohn Wesley is one of those historical figures I feel like I know though I know little about him. I have heard his name throughout my Christian walk but outside of writing some hymns and defending perfectionism, my knowledge about Wesley was lacking. That is why I think Fred Sanders’ book Wesley on the Christian Life is a perfect beginner’s guide to learn about that which made Wesley unique.

Wesley on the Christian Life continues the Crossway series highlighting key historical figures that have been influential in the continuing of the Christian faith. What makes this particular book worthwhile for those ignorant about Wesley, is that Sanders let’s Wesley speak for himself while Sanders essentially just facilitates the conversation.

The book starts with a short biography of John Wesley, highlighting some key moments of his life, most importantly his conversion. I found it interesting that like many in today’s church, Wesley was a religious man without being a saved man.

 Luckily for us, once his conversion took place and his heart was changed, he was unnaturally productive. As mentioned before, Wesley wrote some of the Church’s most beloved hymns as did his brother, Charles. But Wesley was more than a hymn writer. He was an evangelist. I loved reading about his passion for spreading the gospel and training laymen to do so. I respect the fact that he was willing to think out of the box to spread the good news. Though, I think some of his rules for his lay leaders were a bit stringent, I would have liked to sit in one of their meetings.

There were many aspects of Wesley’s theology I did not quite agree with but the thing that disappoints me most about him is his failed marriage. To hear of such influential leaders (and he is not the first to be sure) be great evangelist but terrible husbands causes me to wince a bit. I do not expect any man to be perfect, but allowing a marriage to fall by the wayside makes me question how successful one really is at ministry. Not to discredit the work Wesley did, but marriage is kind of a big deal.

Wesley on the Christian Life is a great introduction of Wesley and his theology. Sanders’ writing style is inviting and he does a good job of allowing Wesley to speak for himself. He also is successful in being careful not to place Wesley on a pedestal, but takes the opportunity to point out areas in which Wesley’s theology may have been misled. Overall, this is a great read.


I received my copy of this book from Crossway for free in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Pastor's Justification by Jared Wilson


am not a pastor. I have no desire to be a pastor. So what was the motivation behind me reading Jared Wilson’s latest book, The Pastor’s Justification? Well, for starters, I enjoy the writings of Wilson. I have read Gospel Wakefulness as well as Gospel Deeps and enjoyed them both very much. His writing style is casual, as if talking with a friend, yet has a theological meatiness to it that stirs my soul for the LORD.

The Pastor's Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and MinistryThe other motivation behind reading this book was my strange infatuation with what it looks like to lead a church. And The Pastor’s Justification did just that. It peeled back the curtain and let me get a behind-the-scenes look at the pastor’s life.

I had no idea how demanding it is to be a pastor. I always knew it was a busy job, but like most church members, I have been too focused on myself. To think that they have to deal with the normal trials and growing pains of the Christian life and then help shepherd others deal with theirs sounds overwhelming. I have a newfound respect for the daunting task of my own elders after reading this book.

I especially loved the personal stories Jared Wilson tells of his experiences of being a pastor. He does not hold back with his own failures and struggles. These stories felt like they were coming from a place of sincerity and honesty rather than a false humility. They also helped to put some meat on the bones, so-to-speak, of the points Wilson was making.

This book seemed less about pragmatic steps to being a better pastor or tips on growing your church, and more about refocusing the pastor on the goal and means of pastoring. Though The Pastor’s Justification is definitely directed towards pastors, I believe it would be beneficial for all church members to read it. Some of the topics are pastor specific while other topics would benefit the layman. Definitely (and strangely) one of my favorite books of the year.

I received this book for free from Crossway in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Weakness Is the Way by J. I. Packer


Weakness Is the WayJ. I. Packer is one of the most well-respected theologians around. Author of the highly popular, Knowing God, when Dr. Packer speaks, he oozes Christ-exalting wisdom. So when I heard he was releasing a new book on weakness, I was immediately interested. Weakness Is the Way is a small book that packs a big punch; and the swings might not come from the direction you would expect.

Based on 2 Corinthians, Dr. Packer begins by laying a foundation of what weakness is in its very practical, as well as theological forms. The reader is taken to the mind and motivation of Paul as he is writing to the church in Corinth. This section is solid.

Where Weakness Is the Way takes an unexpected turn for me, is when addressing the Christian’s giving in chapter 3. Dr. Packer takes a look at the role money should have for the Believer. Now, if I am writing a book about weakness, I am not sure I would spend a 1/4 of the book on money. However, to Dr. Packer’s credit, he ties it in beautifully to the theme of the book. And to be honest, the fact that so many of us seek security, comfort, and  strength in money shows that this portion of the discussion is much more needed than I would have given it credit for. Way to go Dr. Packer.

The book closes with a focus on where we “weak” beings can find our hope. These sinful and broken bodies are not the end. There is something better, after this, to look forward to.

All-in-all, this is classic Packer. Deep thoughts, broken down to the point that just about anyone can understand it. He is relatable, gentle, humorous, and ferociously about glorifying Christ throughout. It might not take the reader long to get through this little book, but the depth of the content is likely to have a lasting impact.


I received this book for free from Crossway in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Lyrical Catechism by Benjamin the Esquire


This has been a good year for theology-focused hip-hop. With releases from veteran emcees shai linne, The Collective, and Evangel already, it’s hard to believe there could be anymore releases of the same caliber. Enter Benjamin the Esquire. Ben is an emcee who has popped-up here and there throughout some of Christcentric’s albums over the years, but never has he released a full-length album. Instead, he has been busy being a family man and practicing what he preaches on his debut album, Lyrical Catechism. I would even argue that he may have taken all this time to master his craft because when it comes to wordplay, Ben is on point.
Lyrical-CatechismLyrical Catechism is based on the popular Westminster Shorter Catechism, a theme I have never heard put to music, let alone, hip-hop. He covers topics such as, the chief end of man (“The Chief End), the character of God (“What is God”), the fall of man (“Sin and Misery”), and the offices of Christ (Prophet, Priest, & King”). The topics may not be revolutionary, but I do not think they are meant to be. Ben starts the album off by explaining that the practice of catechizing has been going on long before us (“Standing Tall on Their Shoulders”) so it’s no surprise that the song topics are generally familiar; Although, the verbal applause on “A Mother’s Interlude” and the explanation of “The Esquire” stood out as a fresh ideas.

While listening to Lyrical Catechism, it seemed to me there were two goals set by Benjamin the Esquire (three, if we count exalting Christ which we will assume is a given). The first, I believe is to take some of the questions from the Westminster Shorter Catechism and answer them in song form. This is clear on songs such as, “The Final Word,” “He Goes Way Back,” and “The Chief End.” I think the second goal for Ben, is to encourage the listener to take up the practice of catechizing their families, and more specifically, their children.

One of the biggest surprises for me on this album was the level of lyricism and wordplay. He came out sounding hungry, like he had something to prove. That type of hunger is rare in CHH. It definitely increases the replay value trying to catch all of the little nuances of the skill.

The only place the album lacked for me was in some of the production. For the most part, the throw-back, classic, hip-hop feel really worked for the album. There were, however, a few exceptions such as, “A Mother’s Interlude.” The slow, awkward piano loop made getting through the song pretty tough. I really enjoyed the content but the beat makes this a song I often skip. The production as a whole is not bad by any means, but it is easily outshined by Ben’s delivery.

For a debut album, Lyrical Catechism is pretty impressive. Benjamin the Esquire offers something worth checking out for fans of theology-focused hip-hop, witty wordplay, and that classic boom-bap vibe.