Best Books of 2016

January 17, 2017 at 3:31 pm | Posted in Books and Movies | Leave a comment

Each year I try  to write an article about the best books I’ve read in the previous year.  The biggest chunk of my reading in 2016 was novels, and I discovered some authors these past twelve months that I have enjoyed and want to read again.

First, I need to mention Kristy Cambron.  I read her first book The Butterfly and the Violin early last year, and it was a great book.  I had to immediately check out the sequel A Sparrow in Terezin, and it was just as good.  These two novels give readers a different picture of the cruelty of the Nazi concentration camps than they’ve probably seen before — how camp officers used talented prisoners for entertainment purposes.  A sad but revealing side of history presented through characters with incredible strength.  Already this year, I have read Cambron’s newest book, The Ringmaster’s Wife, an historical novel about the wife of John Ringling.  With this week’s news that the Ringling Brothers’ Circus is shutting down forever, you might find this a fascinating read.  I will watch for more from this author.

Second, I have discovered Michael Neale.  His name has been known in Christian music, but his first novel is a masterpiece of Christian allegory. The surface story of The River is a young man named Gabriel Clarke who is transformed from a boy afraid of water because of an awful experience into a white water adventure guide.  In itself it is a captivating story.  But it’s the metaphorical meaning about spiritual life that makes the story especially good.  After reading it myself, I set it aside to read aloud to my family over Christmas break.  It was even better the second time through.  I can’t say much more without giving too much away, just get it and read it.  I am looking forward to the sequel Into the Canyon.

Finally, I have to mention Randy Alcorn.  His novel Safely Home is not just the best book I read in 2016 (nonfiction included), it has been added to my life’s most influential books list.  I have read some of Alcorn’s nonfiction works, but this was the first novel I’ve read.  You can read my review here.


New Way to Read Ancient Scrolls

September 22, 2016 at 11:26 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Here is a fascinating piece of news that may not make the mainstream media.  Scientists have found a way to read ancient scrolls that are too fragile to unroll and read.  The first successful attempt was with a 4th Century BC scroll of Leviticus.   Here is a news article containing a video explaining the process.

It should come as no surprise to biblical conservatives, that the reading of this scroll, the most ancient of the Pentateuch now available, is identical to the text we use today.

“The text is ‘100 percent identical’ to the version of the Book of Leviticus that has been in use for centuries, said Dead Sea Scroll scholar Emmanuel Tov from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who participated in the study.”   The quote comes from this BBC article about the new technology.

The grass withers, the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.

ESV Changes in 2016

September 21, 2016 at 11:25 am | Posted in English Bible Translations, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I thought some readers might like to know this.  I’ve been asked before if the ESV had made changes from the originally released Bible.  I commented on that here.  Those were earlier changes made sometime soon after 2001.  Now, once again, they have made a small number of changes.  Here is a website that lists all the changes that were made in 2016.  The translators claim this is the final text of the ESV.

I don’t know the reasoning behind most of these changes, some could be significant, like Genesis 3:16 and 4:7.  Some others are corrections that apparently were not caught the first time changes were made; an example is Numbers 14:42 where the new text changes “Lord” to “LORD.”  A quick glance at any modern translation will tell you this was a mistake in the earlier ESV editions.

The translators say that the 2016 changes are “limited to 52 words (out of more than 775,000 total words in ESV Bible) found in 29 verses (out of more than 31,000 verses in the ESV).  All that is really rather minor.

Keep reading the Word.

Safely Home: An Awesome Book!

July 20, 2016 at 9:43 pm | Posted in Books and Movies, It's All About God | Leave a comment

My family spent part of last week camping in the mountains where I had time to do some fun reading.  I read the best novel I have read in years, probably one of the best ever.  It was Randy Alcorn’s Safely HomeI had read Alcorn’s theology of Heaven, which I reviewed in this blog, but had never read his novels.  I will be sure to read more of them now.  I hesitate to use the word awesome for much, but this book was awesome!  I may have to add it to my list of most influential books ever read; time will tell.

Safely Home tells the story of two college roommates who reconnected twenty years after they graduated from college and had lost touch.  One was a successful business executive in America, the other a locksmith’s assistant and house church leader in China.

Alcorn researched the book carefully, and though it is fiction, he claims the statistics reported are true as are many of the stories out of China; those that are not actual stories are in line with things that do happen in China.  Though the characters are fictional, they ring true to life, so much so, I got caught up in the book as though it were a real story.  The way they learn from each other is a great education for the reader.

The presentation of the persecuted church in contrast with American materialism is absolutely fascinating and convicting.  It caused me to question a lot of my assumptions about the world-wide church, about persecution, and about American church values.

I would give you some great quotes from the book, except I got caught up in the story and didn’t bother to write anything down,  Besides I was so impressed with it, the others in my family hijacked the book as soon as I was done so they could read it too!

All proceeds from the sale of the book go to ministries supporting the persecuted church around the world, so buy a copy and read it.

Here is a link to a site that has 14 quotes from the book.  My favorite from this page is “If you are looking for a religion centered around yourself, Ben, I must agree that Christianity is a poor choice.”

Preach It by Stuart Briscoe

June 22, 2016 at 11:26 am | Posted in Books and Movies, Ministry | Leave a comment

I had decided at one time that I should read a preaching book at least every two years, but haven’t read any for quite some time.  After hearing Stuart and Jill Briscoe speak at our spring pastors’ and wives’ get-a-way, I picked up his book Preach It.  It has some great thoughts, some good humor, and some practical suggestions.  The best parts, however, are more about the preacher’s attitude than methodology.  And I thought I would share some of those here.

I spent a miserable few weeks second-guessing my decision to leave banking and concentrate on ministry.  One day I had a searing, troubling thought.  I wondered if I would ever be content if I could never preach again.  The thought persisted and eventually became framed in a question that seemed to come from the Lord himself: “Stuart Briscoe, what do you love most — preaching about me or me?”  It was a question I had trouble addressing, because I knew it would expose the motives behind my preaching, and I didn’t like what I was discovering about myself.  There was a certain excitement about preaching, a sense of being able to do something and do it reasonably well.  It was thrilling to be in demand.  . . .  A preacher’s motives matter more than a preacher’s methods.  If what is going on in a preacher’s heart is not right, what is coming out of his mouth will be all wrong.  (pages 77-78)

They are comfortable with their calling because they know it is of God and not of themselves.   They did not choose to preach.  They know that for reasons known only to God they were chosen to preach.  . . .  These preachers are comfortable with being gifted because the very term gift presupposes a giver.  They know that the Spirit distributes the gifts as he chooses, and he apparently chose them.  They have long since come to terms with the fact that this does not make them superior because of their highly visible gifting anymore than noses are superior to hearts because of their prominence.  . . .  They know that they cannot save a single soul, open a solitary blind eye, or turn anyone from darkness to light or from the power of Satan to God.  But they also know that God can and still does and that he uses people just like them.  . . .  They are excruciatingly aware of their inadequacy  . . .  No one need remind them of their unworthiness  . . .  [God] specializes in using such people because they are the only kind available.  (pages 172-173)

Maybe printing it here will help remind at least one other preacher of the amazing, overwhelming, yet humbling task we’ve been given.  May God be glorified in it.

Finally, on a lighter note, Briscoe quotes John Stott as saying that most preachers are “six days invisible and one day incomprehensible!”  (page 140)  I hope that doesn’t describe me!

Spurgeon on the Preacher’s Prayer

June 14, 2016 at 9:07 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Personal Testimony | Leave a comment

Some words, from Charles Spurgeon, I need reminded of often.  I frequently feel the need for “much more grace than common men.”  I’m sure others in ministry feel the same way.

If there be any man under heaven, who is compelled to carry out the precept “Pray without ceasing,” surely it is the Christian minister. He has peculiar temptations, special trials, singular difficulties, and remarkable duties; he therefore needs much more grace than common men, and as he knows this, he is led constantly to cry to the strong for strength, and say, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.”

The minister who does not earnestly pray over his work must surely be a vain and conceited man. He acts as if he thought himself sufficient of himself, and therefore needed not to appeal to God.

Both of these came from Charles Spurgeon’s book Lectures to My Students.  I found them on the Focus on the Family website Thriving Pastor.  If interested, you can read the entire lengthy but excellent article here.

I Hate the Doctrine of Hell

March 3, 2016 at 2:15 pm | Posted in Eschatology, It's All About God, Theology | Leave a comment

“I hate the doctrine of hell.”  So begins the video by R.C. Sproul linked in this post.  I would agree with him.  An eternal hell is one of those things we Christians don’t like to talk much about, because we are so uncomfortable with what we say we believe.  Dr. Sproul explains our discomfort with hell while defending why it is still true.  One of the best things I’ve heard in a while.  The video is well worth the 3-1/2 minutes it takes to listen.  R. C. Sproul on God’s Glory in Judgment.

Narnia and the Election

February 27, 2016 at 10:13 am | Posted in Books and Movies, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Very rarely do I comment on politics in this blog.  The subtitle is “A Teaching Pastor’s Devotional and Theological Thoughts,” and I try to keep it to that.  However, occasionally the two areas overlap, and occasionally I can’t refrain.  As a big fan of The Chronicles of Narnia, this article caught my attention.  I find I totally agree with the author.  Its called Nikabrik’s Candidate.  If you’ve read or seen Prince Caspian, then you will know the story behind the article.


An added note from this morning’s prayer time.  It’s a prayer for many candidates on both sides of the aisle.

There they are, bellowing with their mouths with swords in their lips —
for “Who,” they think, “will hear us?”
But you, O LORD, laugh at them; you hold all the nations in derision.
O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress.
My God in his steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on my enemies.
For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips, let them be trapped in their pride.
For the cursing and lies that they utter, consume them in wrath;
consume them till they are no more,
that they may know that God rules over Jacob to the ends of the earth.
Selected verses from Psalm 59 (ESV)

Valentine’s Day Monologue

February 16, 2016 at 5:11 pm | Posted in God's Love | Leave a comment

Here is the text to my sermon introduction on February 14, 2016.  Valentine’s Day was originally a church holiday to celebrate the love of God.  By the way, I really did have a tooth problem this week, but it didn’t keep me away.

Due to a severe toothache, Pastor Glenn is not able to be with us today.  But we do have a guest speaker that you will be thrilled to know.  His name is Len, and I can’t say much about him, because he will tell us his own story.  But you need to know he is speaking to us from a Roman prison in the year 270AD. Welcome Len.

Good morning.  As the man said, my name is Len.  I would tell you it’s a joy to be with you, but this is a strange day for me.  You see, I am scheduled to be executed later today.  Ironic they would choose the eve of Lupercalia, the pagan Roman holiday for sexual love, since love is one of the reasons I am in prison.  Let me tell you that story.

The Roman Emperor, Claudius the Second, a very cruel emperor that one, has been in numerous military campaigns in recent days, and his people are losing their taste for war.  He was having trouble getting young recruits into the army to serve the empire, so he came up with a crazy idea.  He forbid young men to marry until they had put in their military service.  I guess he figured that if they didn’t have wives and children to come home to, the soldiers would be more dedicated to their military efforts.

Being a priest in a community near Rome, and knowing the importance of love, I decided to continue to marry young couples.  Besides, I’ve preached for years that God is love, that God demonstrated his love for us in Jesus, that we should love one another, and that the best earthly expression of love is the marriage relationship.

Well, as you might guess, word got back to the authorities that I was defying the Emperor’s command.  They came to arrest me, right after a marriage ceremony incidentally, and charge me not only with defiance of the marriage ban, but also of leading an illegal cult.  They tried to get me to deny Jesus as my only lord, and promise not to perform anymore marriage ceremonies.  Those were two things that I couldn’t do.  So here I am in prison waiting for my death sentence to be carried out.

I have a strange calm today.  I have read the stories of earlier martyrs like Polycarp.  You know his story of course, next to the apostles one of the most famous martyr stories there is.  When Polycarp was a young man, he was discipled by an old man named John, yeah the John, John the Apostle of Jesus.  Polycarp was our last connection to the first disciples.  And he seemed so brave to face the Proconsul and say, in a strong voice despite his age, “I’ve served my Lord for 84 years, and he has never denied me; how can I deny him now.”

I have also read the account of Perpetua, her story has been circulating around the Christian churches recently too.  She was a young noble woman in Africa, who refused to deny Jesus, in spite of her wealthy father’s pleas.  She and her friends were fed to the beasts in Carthage just a generation ago.  Her peace and courage were a huge source of encouragement to all around her.  Even the jailer came to know Jesus because of her testimony.

As I’ve read those stories, I always been impressed by the bravery of the martyrs.   Now I’m thinking they weren’t so brave as they were empowered by God’s spirit for the occasion.  I am strangely calm now.  I just pray that, by the Spirit, I can be as calm and brave as those two saints were.

There is one blessing to my being in prison that I have to tell you about.  The jailer’s daughter here was a blind girl who often came to me with encouraging words from my friends.  I prayed for her, and,  God be praised, he gave that young girl her sight!  It was an amazing miracle!  As you might expect, her entire family is asking to know more about Jesus.

She’s a sweet girl, that Theodora.  I have just written her a letter.  She will know it’s from me because I have often sent messages to my friends on parchment cut into heart shapes, but I signed this one anyway.  Of course I signed it not with just my nick name Len, but with my full, better-known name; I signed it “from your Valentine.”  May she and her family grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

There’s not a lot we really know about St. Valentine, except that someone by that name was martyred on February 14, 269 or 270 and was later sainted by the Roman church.  However some of the legends go way back in time, including the story of the jailer’s daughter.  Other parts, like the letter on heart-shaped paper, the girl’s name, and the ban on marriage are probably added embellishments.  Happy Valentine’s Day.  Celebrate the love of God today.

The entire message can be heard here.

Best Books of 2015

February 6, 2016 at 8:28 pm | Posted in Books and Movies | Leave a comment

I usually take time in January to rethink the best books I’d read the year before.  I’m late this year, but I thought some readers might still appreciate it.

My fiction readings included a few more Bess Crawford novels by Charles Todd, always clean and entertaining; three Davis Bunn novels, I’d never read him before but enjoyed all of them; a reread of Ted Dekker’s Blink, my favorite of the Dekker books I’ve read; and the Accidental Empress by Alison Pataki, interesting but not near as good as her first book, The Traitor’s wife, which was on my best of the year list for 2014.

I also read two of Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone books.  I’d read The Columbus Affair before and decided to try some more of Berry’s action tails.  So far they’ve all been enjoyable, but The Lincoln Myth surpassed them all; it was one of best novels of the year.  The book proposes a secret agreement between Abraham Lincoln and Brigham Young.  A fascinating bit of history.  Berry rewrites some history, but unlike a Dan Brown, Berry tell his readers at the end what he discovered in his studies as true and what he invented for fiction sake.

The most fascinating novel, however, may have been Gutenberg’s Apprentice by Alix Christie.  The race to get the Bible printed before anyone found out about the invention and before money and supplies ran out was a fun adventure, especially for this reader who loves the history and stories of the Reformation.  I’ve often taught that the printing press was the greatest invention of history, but the politics and business decisions surrounding it are also very intriguing.  Sometimes Christie is blunt about the depraved thinking of the characters, but nothing was too explicit or unreal.

The best Christian book by far had to be John Stott’s The Cross of Christ, which I reviewed in this blog.  Stott not only explains what the Bible teaches about the cross, he also explains why it has to be that way.  The cross is the only possible answer to God’s perfect justice and his unfailing love.

Happy reading in 2016!

« Previous PageNext Page »

Create a free website or blog at
Entries and comments feeds.