Richard D. Phillips. Jonah & Micah. P & R Publishing, 2010. 432 pages.

Faithful exposition and application of the biblical text is foundational to the health of any local church. The Reformed Expository Commentary series strives to provide pastors, church leaders and teachers with biblically faithful exposition supported by fresh application. Richard Phillips is more than qualified and gifted to produce a volume about these minor prophets that stands in the long stream of the Reformed tradition: a tradition that is biblical, doctrinal, redemptive-historical and practical.

Jonah is about the amazing grace and mercy of God. Phillips says, “The book of Jonah challenges us to consider not only what it means to believe the gospel of grace, but also what it means to live the gospel of grace” (italics original). Jonah is an ideal companion along the adventure of learning about the massive depth of God’s grace.

The book of Micah, according to Phillips, gives shape to the Church’s challenge in our time. Though Israel faced the dark dual threats of neighboring nations and divine judgment, the bright light of gospel mercy shines through the promises of God. Though His people sin, God always responds to their repentance with matchless grace. “The God Micah presents to us truly is an incomparable God: sovereign, holy, and abounding in grace.”

This volume is helpful to pastors and bible teachers on a number of levels. First, Phillips is biblical. He walks through each book passage by passage and, though this volume is not intended to be exegetical, he does give careful attention to each text. When teaching about Nineveh’s repentance in Jonah 3:5-10, Phillips gives the immediate context of repentance, moves to what biblical repentance looks like in Jonah 3, and then gives a brief overview of repentance throughout the Bible. Second, Phillips provides a fine example of redemptive-historical interpretation of the Scriptures from a covenantal perspective. He shows where the text is pointing to Christ and how the Old Testament gives us examples of living by faith. Finally, each exposition, in one way or another, brings into focus the shining light of the gospel. Phillips does this in a way that never seems forced in his exposition or over-reaching in his interpretations.

There are a few areas of which potential readers should be aware.  First, if you do not share Phillips’ covenantal presuppositions, you will not agree with all the interpretations advanced in these expositions. If you are aware of this, you will be able to read what is helpful and what does not fit within your understanding of the Bible. The series and this volume are “committed to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.” This volume did not give as much attention to biblical theology as deserved in some areas, but the editors and authors are up front about their doctrinal foundations and intentions.

Secondly, in his opening exposition in Jonah, Phillips says,

When most people think of Jonah, they think only of the famous fish that swallowed him. Their first question is, Did this really happen? Or, What kind of fish was it? But these questions are incidental to the book. Far more importantly, Jonah brings us face to face with such important issues such as God’s grace for the wicked, God’s sovereignty over his servants, and the intense human struggle involved with forgiveness and repentance.

Curious, I flipped to his exposition on Jonah 1:17. There he says, “It is important to defend the validity of the text. But for those who can accept that God performs miracles in our world, the more important point is the text’s meaning.” I understand what Phillips is getting at, which is to say that too many people get caught up with the great fish and wrongly focus on it rather than the God who is sovereign over it and over Jonah. What I do not fully understand is how these statements made it to print because I believe the historicity of the Bible is never “incidental”. Phillips rightly sees the danger that lurks when the focus is shifted from God, but Jonah did not believe the great fish to be incidental, nor did Jesus in Matthew 12. I commend Phillips’ attempt at trying to ward off liberal attacks on the “validity of the text” (65), but his plan of attack seems to be liberal itself and therefore falls well short. Instead of saying the reality of the fish is incidental to the message of Jonah, Phillips would have been standing firm in the stream of his own tradition if he had not gotten caught up in the reality of the fish, focusing rather on to the even more striking reality of who God is.

Finally, though this commentary is practical and has appropriate illustrations, many times that did not always mean I would be able to make the same points to my congregation or class. That does not mean I thought his points were off-base, but only that I believe the Bible is alive and active. A pastor will need to not take the easy route of using Phillips’ illustrations and applications, instead doing the hard work of wrestling with what God has to say through the books of Jonah and Micah to their local congregation.

Jonah & Micah is pastorally helpful, as it is a good example of biblical exposition and produces application points and questions that are faithful to the text. If you have a limited budget and can only afford a few resources for the books of Jonah and Micah, or you are not Reformed, you may choose to buy other more exegetical commentaries that will help you wrestle with the text for yourself and your own congregation. But if you are looking for a companion study volume that shows the massive grace and unceasing mercy of the sovereign God, Jonah & Micah would be a helpful resource on your shelf.

Seconds away from turning in last night, I heard that the President was going to address the nation. As we all know by now since it was reported over and over as we waited and waited, a live, Presidential address at 10:30pm on a Sunday after everyone was home and prepping for Monday is far from ordinary. In fact, it is extraordinary. After 9 years, 7 months and 20 days (3,519 days), the United States military achieved their top priority in their mission against al Qaeda. Osama Bin Laden is dead. President Obama said, “On nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terror: Justice has been done.” The United States government rightly executed its divinely appointed authority to bring wrath upon workers of evil, bringing about justice for a country and its citizens, especially those who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terrorism. A just government cannot stand idly by, as it “does bear the sword in vain.” But during the President’s address and in much of the following commentary, I was reminded of a few truths. First, though “justice has been done”, it is only a glimpse of true justice. Ultimately, every human being deserves death for their willful pride and rebellion against the One True God. Mankind does not deserve justice in the sense that it has been used these past hours. It is a mercy that God has not left us to ourselves, dead in our sin and objects of wrath, for that is what we truly deserve. Bin Laden met his just end, but I am keenly reminded that if my sinful heart and rebellious actions against the Creator were revealed to the world, there would be many who would want me to get what I deserve.

We also must remember that God is magnified when justice prevails in our world. John Piper wrote on September 12, 2001, that God-ordained authorities using “force to restrain evil and bring law-breakers to justice” bring glory to God in displaying His character and His will that sin be somewhat restrained in this world. The United States’ execution of justice points us to the God who is just and who will one day make all things right in a world filled with injustice. When this news comes up in conversation today, boldly point those around you, both believers and unbelievers, to the ultimate reality of true and coming justice so that Christians may glorify God and unbelievers may have an opportunity to hear the good news of the gospel. Today, let us boldly proclaim the story of redemption that culminated in the death and resurrection of Jesus, where justice and mercy met.

Thirdly, God’s plan of redemption will not stop. It will not hit any roadblocks. It will not be deterred. It will come to pass. As our country’s top officials slap each other’s backs at the accomplishment of a mission that the world had come to wonder if success was achievable, we see a picture worth a thousand words. Judgment is coming for all (Acts 17:30-31; Revelation 20:11-15). We can fight it. We can ignore it. We can even try to hide from it. But one day, “God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5) and “Christ will judge the living and the dead” (1 Timothy 4:1), both believers and unbelievers (Romans 14:10,12; Matthew 25:36-41). We are heading somewhere and it is to stand before a great white throne and Jesus Christ sitting upon it. Though Osama met a violent and just end, it is nothing compared to having to account for his heinous actions against a holy God.

Not only is judgment coming, but our life’s end as well. Whether we die someday or are alive when the Last Day arrives, our time will come to a close. Maybe it is today. Bin Laden woke up yesterday like he had every day for the previous 54 years, unaware that the previous 8 months had been leading up to his death. We do not know when death will come, but it is one of the sure things in life. And even if you live during the time when Christ returns, even that event will be sudden and unexpected (Matthew 24:44, 25:13). Let us live with our eyes fixed on Jesus as we run this race. Let this news be a reminder that we are not guaranteed tomorrow, so that you may pursue your joy in Christ alone today in everything you do for His glory.

So let us be reminded today of the God who created all things for his glory with justice having a right and good place in it. Let us be reminded that we too are sinners deserving death and in need of great mercy, and new mercies every day. Praise be to God for his justice and mercy! If justice is all we had, judgment is all we would receive. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7).

This review first appeared at The Gospel Coalition’s book review site, TGC Reviews.

Justin S. Holcomb and Lindsey A Holcomb, Rid Of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault (Crossway, 2011), 272 pages.

In a fallen world where unspeakable evil occurs, the church must be a place that shines the hope of the gospel into the darkness. One dark corner of our world is sexual assault. The statistics are astonishing. One in four women and one in six men have been or will be victims of sexual assault. The effects are horrific. And the world is not short of remedies: self-help, self-love, and self-heal. Unfortunately for the victims, these answers are “horrible news.”

Justin Holcomb, a pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, and his wife, Lindsey Holcomb, equip the church to rise and meet the challenge of helping victims of sexual assault, not by the empty hope of self-help, but by grace, redemption, and restoration in the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let me be up front with the matter. I really liked this book. Pastors should read it, and victims of abuse will be encouraged by the authors’ honesty and care. So to briefly comment on the book’s content and its usefulness to pastors, counselors, and victims, let me give four brief reflections on its value to the local church’s ministry to the afflicted.

First, Rid Of My Disgrace deals honestly and directly with sexual assault. It presents a clear and full definition, giving victims, churches and pastors clarity on what constitutes sexual assault. They describe in vivid detail numerous effects the assault brings upon a person. Victims will feel like they are not alone, while pastors and counselors will have an invaluable resource for learning what is going on inside the victim when their own words cannot express the inner turmoil. We need an honest and direct book because “surveys and studies indicate that most people know almost nothing about the dynamics of sexual violence and have little or no experience in dealing with it.”

Second, Rid of My Disgrace displays the prevalence of sexual assault and its effect on the victims. “One in four women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime. These statistics are probably underestimates . . .  every two minutes someone in the United States is sexually assaulted.” These numbers are overwhelmingly high, even considering the problem of under-reporting, and it knows no boundaries of “color, race, religion, nationality, lifestyle, sexual preference, education, class, occupation, ability, or disability.” No matter where we live or minister, there are hurting people all around us, even on Sunday mornings.

The only thing more sobering than the numbers is its effect. Sexual assault can affect every aspect of your life: “your faith, your daily attitudes and emotions, your-self image, your relationships, and your sexuality.” Our churches, along with their pastors, ministers, staffs, and volunteers, can discover new avenues for gospel proclamation and transformation if we can begin to grasp the prevalence of sexual assault and its devastating effects.

Third, Rid Of My Disgrace is gospel-centered and immensely practical. The foundation for healing from the first pages is the gospel. The Holcombs never stop returning to it, continually pointing people to the grace found in Christ alone. God’s way of redeeming his people was through Christ’s suffering on the cross, but the cross is also where our disgrace is transformed. This a practical theology of grace applied to the disgraceful experiences and effects of sexual assault. Our counseling ministry will have this book on hand and will be used in our training seminars classes.

Fourth, God is glorified in every chapter. One of the phrases you hear at Mars Hill Church is “It’s all about Jesus,” and this book is no exception, as Jesus is exalted on every page. God’s grace, his “one-way, unconditional love expressed through, and founded on, the person and redemptive work of Jesus Christ” is marveled at from cover to cover. Even if you have never been sexually assaulted or have never ministered to someone who has, this book will cause you to contemplate the depths of the riches of the grace of God in the person and work of Jesus.

Sin is devastating. Maybe more than we realize most days. But the wretched nature of sexual assault gives us a glimpse of sin’s deep darkness. However, the Holcombs show that even if sin goes deeper than you could ever imagine, God’s grace goes deeper still.

Crossway has published a wonderful edition of Pilgrim’s Progress.  CJ Lovik excellently edited Bunyan’s classic and Mike Wimmer produced beautiful illustrations.  If you are looking for a family gift this Advent season and you do not own Pilgrim’s Progress, or you do not have an edition that is easily accessible to young readers and listeners, this would make a perfect addition to your library.

If you are looking for ideas for your younger children’s stocking, Christian Focus has published a few little books that would be excellent gifts.  For 1-3 year olds, they have a series called ‘Bible Art‘.  They are coloring books dealing with the biblical topics of creation, holiness, redemption, repentance and salvation.  There are also ‘Color the Bible’ books that take your children through books of Bible.

For 4-7 year olds, they have the ‘My First…‘ series. I gave Grace three of these that I really found helpful:

Justin Taylor linked to this post by Erik Raymond. Stevie Johnson, a Buffalo Bills wide receiver, and his tweet are the talk of the town. Even one of our staff pastors’ mother told us about Stevie blaming God for dropping a game-winning touchdown pass!  But there is only one problem… Stevie didn’t blame God, as clarified in a later tweet:

“And No I Did Not Blame God People! Seriously??!? CMon! I Simply Cried Out And Asked Why? Jus Like yal did wen sumthin went wrong n ur life!”

I don’t blame Erik for jumping on this. While hosting SportsCenter, ESPN’s Mike & Mike commented on the tweet and declared that blaming God for dropping a pass is something that you probably don’t want to do. However, I would hope that fellow Christians would be quick to listen and slow to tweet and blog. Stevie’s original tweet sounds eerily similar to many psalms of lament. He even ends it with thanksgiving! With only 140 characters, one can hardly jump to any conclusions about someone’s entire life trajectory or theological foundations and one can hardly be absolutely sure Stevie was being flippantly idolatrous and thinking God owes him something. In the midst of turmoil, Stevie lamented. Those of us who have gone through tough circumstances have wondered “Why?”. Sure it’s football, and dropping a TD pass is obviously nothing like Job went through and other personal struggles of family, health, life and death. But where did Stevie turn? And it seems the church should be there to help people land where the psalmists and, seemingly, Stevie landed after asking the question:

“Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” Psalm 43:5

Geoff Thomas has been the the pastor of Alfred Place Baptist Church for over 40 years. He wrote postscript for a book by another Welsh minister, The Glory Of The Cross, which is quoted below.  I have not read the book, but Rev. Thomas’ postscript made my affections for Christ soar this morning! Hallelujah, what a Savior!!

“The Glory of the Cross is understood when we see that the impaled and immolated Christ is not simply a helpless victim, rather that the Cross was the instrument by which our Lord wielded his Almightiness, through the Eternal Spirit, as the weapon of his warfare so that it became the means of his victory over sin, Satan and death. Christ was not simply suffering the will of God, he was doing it.

The cross was not the stake of a martyr: it was a theatre of war, the scene of a mighty conflict. Incalculable spiritual power was being wielded. Sin was being rendered impotent; death was being destroyed; the rulers of the darkness of this world were being routed. At no point of our Lord’s death was there loss of consciousness or exhaustion or strength. His spirit is not simply to depart, or to expire. It is rather dismissed, on the authority of the Saviour, as a magnificent shout of triumph reverberates through heaven, earth and hell – ‘It is finished!’ So forgiveness in the Bible is grounded firmly in the rectitude of God, not his indulgence. It is a righteous act, and a judicial action sanctioned by the Moral law. The sacrifice of the Lord of glory, the blood of God the Son, justify justification. In the flesh of the Son of God the sins of the church of God have been condemned.

Therefore in the logic of redemption there is now no condemnation. In Christ, they are all that the righteousness of God requires the Holy One to require, and for that reason not only may  God forgive them, but God may not forgive them. It is to the divine fidelity that the eloquence of the Cross is ultimately addressed. Who is he that condemns? It is Christ Jesus that died. That is the Glory of the Cross!”

(HT: Paul Levy)

After yesterday’s sermon by Pastor Brent from Mark 1, I went to the gospels this morning to see Jesus’ call of the first disciples (Matthew 4, Luke 5, Mark 1) and to hear His words again. I was helped by both the sermon and by one commentators conclusion.

Grant Osborne, Matthew:

“Mark and Matthew say the first four disciples surrendered both occupation and family, and Luke 5:11 says they ‘left everything’ to follow Christ. The problem today is so many want to give Christ virtually a “tithe” of their life, that is, one-tenth to him and 90 percent for themselves. Jesus makes it clear that such will not do. ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God’ (Luke 9:62). As [Don] Hagner says, ‘The call of God through Jesus is sovereign and absolute in its authority; the response of those who are called is to be both immediate and absolute, involving a complete break with old loyalties.’ This will look different for each of us; but the truth is the same. Everything we hold back from God will hamper the quality of our life and keep us from realizing our true potential for him.”

The immediacy and the surrender will look different for different men, women and families, but the truth is the same.  Discipleship for Jesus was a total, radical surrender.

Five Points Community Church is hosting Andrew Peterson on October 20th @ 7pm. Counting Stars is Andrew’s 6th studio album release. You can listen to samples and download the album here

Passion’s 2010 album, Awakening, is an excellent worship album.  A Mighty Fortress by Christy Nockels is one of my favorite songs on Awakening. Christy writes:

“Every generation will inevitably struggle with the same question, “what is truth?” Songs are a beautifully simple way to engage people with Truth, that is, what is certain, real and everlasting. When we worship it is imperative to set before our minds and our hearts the attributes of God…His character, His grace and His mercy. This is why His word so powerfully leads us in worship! When we practice this, we set ourselves up to respond appropriately in His presence. The idea and the heart around “A Mighty Fortress” is just that…to renew our minds of who God is and then respond with all eyes and hearts set on Him. We live in a cold, unpredictable world, but it is wonderfully alarming and freeing to sing Truth when all around us is crumbling. This song proclaims that we have protection and take refuge in God and His kingdom is an unshakable kingdom, one in which we will someday reign victorious because of Christ!

When I write and lead songs, often I imagine and picture a “generation” grasping who God is and responding to Him inside of and in spite of the current circumstances of our world and our surroundings. This song was written with a heart to support and cradle that kind of powerful revelation and response…”

Listen, look and worship!