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Book Review: A History of US (Vol. 1): The First Americans

“It is always easy to do and thinks as everyone else does. And here we are, at one of the most important reasons for studying history: to learn from the mistakes of others” (98). So writes Joy Hakim in her first installment of an 11-book series called A History of US. In the chapter quoted, Hakim goes on to ask, “[The explorers] meant to do good. Many people told them they were doing good. Does that excuse them? Does it make a difference to the victim? Is it right to force others to believe as you do? Is it possible?” (99).

These are heady questions for any reader, but the fact that they are posed in language that a 9-year old can comprehend makes this an incredibly thoughtful, rigorous, and important US History text.

In A History of US: The First Americans, readers will find unbiased, white-wash-free accounts of the people and places of United States history from prehistory to 1600. Though sure to disappoint teachers in search of textbooks that perfectly align to state standards, broken down into chapters and sections and subsections with an accompanying set of worksheets, this book is an incredible resource for any history classroom dedicated to authentic historical work.

The First Americans is broken into 39 article-style chapters, each of which is rife images of primary sources. In every chapter, Hakim invites curiosity, discussion, and even debate–in other words, this material encourages the flow of the lifeblood of any history classroom.

In the book’s initial chapter, “Why History?”, Hakim reveals her book’s theme:

I believe the United States of America is the most remarkable nation that has ever existed. No other nation, in the history of the world, has ever provided so much freedom, so much justice, and so much opportunity to so many people.

Characteristically, Hakim immediately follows her theme by saying, “That is a big statement. You don’t have to agree with it. Arguing with a book’s theme is okay” (10).

Because of its constant invitation to debates, its honest look at history, its probing questions, its quality prose, and its extensive use of primary documents, I will be heavily drawing from and promoting this book in my ninth grade humanities classroom.

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How does the gospel change everything?

For the past few months, I’ve mostly been stumped when trying to articulate what I mean by this claim: the gospel changes everything. In my head and heart, there is no better or more comprehensive way to describe why the Jesus makes so much sense to me and why living with Him energizes and motivates me.

I first heard this claim while a member of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, but they certainly didn’t coin it. However, in a newsletter article titled ” Covenant Renewal and Redeemer’s DNA,” Tim Keller does a good job of getting me closer to understanding what it means for the gospel to change everything.

Book Review: The Integrated Life, by Ken Eldred

  • Manna Ventures
  • July 1997
  • 226 pp.

The idea that one’s faith should be fully lived out in all of life is, unfortunately, quite rare these days, yet we find it again and again in the Scriptures. But how does one really integrate faith and work? What can a Christ-follower offer a secular business? How can we go to work with God? In The Integrated Life, Ken Eldred sets out to answer these exact questions.

Ken Eldred is a man who has spent decades discerning the call of Christ in the realm of business. His book discusses the real life implications of this calling, and he makes the reader excited to go back to work on Monday with Jesus. Among other things, Eldred discusses profit (is it wrong? is it right?), spiritual capital, business goals, and ministry. On this lattermost point, I love that Eldred puts a voice to the false assumption that ministry and working outside of the church are mutually exclusive. Eldred draws on the biblical truth that we are all called to be ministers (servants).

And really, that’s what this book does best: it encourages and equips and empowers ministers of God to enter into the world of secular work. Though most of Eldred’s examples come from the business work, I found plenty of connections to my secular workplace (a public high school), and I’m sure you will as well. Definitely pick this one up!

Buy it at Amazon.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Gospel Transformation (Second Edition), by World Harvest Mission

Recommended. The best study on how the gospel changes all of life that I’ve come across to date.

If you’re like me, you believe that, somehow, the good news of God’s love for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ–that is, the gospel–changes absolutely everything about our lives on this planet. From the way we approach our work to the way we love our families to the inner workings of our hearts and minds: the gospel changes it all.

But then, if you’re really like me, what that practically looks like each day can be a bit challenging to figure out. If only there was a rich resource that we could work through each day to prompt our hearts and minds to slowly chew and digest the nourishing facets of God’s good news.

That’s why Gospel Transformation has been rocking my world since I received it from New Growth Press. Each of the thirty-six lessons in the course is rich with the practical implications of the gospel. As I’ve worked through the lessons, I’ve been amazed how, day after day, I’m given so much material for contemplation and application that I need to allot a week or more to each lesson.

In GT, I daily find new ways of thinking about the age-old things most precious to the Christian–the good news of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and this news’ implications for all of life.

The 36 lessons of GT are divided into six units, and, to give you an idea of the topics covered, I’ll include the lesson titles as well (I’m having trouble getting the formatting to work correctly, so bear with me):

  • Unit 1: Introducing the gospel
    • God’s story–your story
    • Broken world, broken lives
    • Our need for the gospel
    • A new reputation
    • A new family
    • Sinners in the hands of a loving God
  • Unit 2: Enemies of the gospel
    • Idolatry
    • Self-centeredness
    • The flesh: lust
    • The flesh: anger
    • Satan and the World
    • False repentance
  • Unit 3: Believing the gospel
    • Living by faith
    • United with Christ
    • Believing God and his promises
    • Living in light of the cross
    • Who am I: “saint” or “sinner”?
    • Barriers to believing
  • Unit 4: The power of the gospel
    • Genuine repentance
    • Repentance and transformation
    • The power of the Spirit
    • The desires of the Spirit
    • Life in the Spirit
    • Grieving the Spirit
  • Unit 5: The fruit of the gospel
    • Love: the expression of faith
    • Fruit of the Spirit
    • Imitating Christ
    • Prayer of the heart
    • The goal of sanctification
    • A new community is born
  • Unit 6: The gospel in relationships
    • The wrong use of laws
    • The gospel is for others
    • Incarnation
    • Forgiveness and compassion
    • Honesty versus judging
    • Barriers to love

Another positive aspect of GT is that it is a flexible resource. It’s ideal for group study but can also fruitfully serve as a personal devotional guide. I used it in the latter capacity while preparing for this review, and I feel like my daily times with God are richer than they have been in a long while.

Two recommendations that I would make in using GT are, first, to use the comprehensive leader’s notes in the back to enrich your understanding of some of the tough questions asked in the lessons, and, second, to take the time to actually look up and read the Scripture references used throughout both the lessons and the leaders notes.

Special thanks to Suzy Knapp for pointing me towards this incredible resource — I pray many will hear about it through this review and be changed by it!

Buy it at New Growth Press.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

On Charging Money for Sermons

I recently had a conversation with a friend who thought it wrong that Redeemer Presbyterian Church of New York City (Tim Keller’s church) charges for sermons. I have several thoughts on this:

  • First of all, I agree with “Robbie” who left a comment to a blog post once, saying, “The reason that Redeemer charges money for the sermons is that every year 1/3 of the congregation leaves due to starting a family or job. Many people are new Christians who do not believe in tithing, if they do it is very little. So the “profits” from sermon recordings go to the gospel ministry.” If someone were to visit Redeemer this weekend, they would find a church that meets in rented spaces and uses a music stand for a pastor’s podium and whose preachers use a corded microphone on a microphone stand (gasp) to amplify their voices. When the sermon mp3s begin by saying, “The net proceeds of the sales of Redeemer recordings are used to support the ministries of Redeemer Presbyterian Church,” they’re not kidding.
  • Second, why do we gladly spend $5 on a healthy meal but begrudge $2.50 for a sermon that will be food for us emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and relationally?
  • Third, as part of their 20-year birthday, Redeemer released 150 free sermons that thoroughly communicate the “DNA” of Redeemer’s message. It’s a categorized, tagged resource that allows people to get manifold looks at the gospel.
I know many will quote Matthew 10:8 here, saying, “Freely we have received the gospel, so we should freely spread it via free sermon audio.” Be careful of context in such Scripture use!
What do you think? Leave a comment.

Book Review: Upside, by Bradley R. E. Wright

  • Bethany House
  • July 1
  • 256 pp.

As a teacher in America, I’m intimately aware of today’s bad news about education. “We’re falling behind other nations! We’re teaching the wrong things and with the wrong methods! We are standards crazy! We don’t have enough standards!” Indeed, I need only join a conversation with colleagues in the hallway to hear some hint of negative landscape of education news today.

Because of this, I found Bradley Wright’s Upside: Surprising Good News about the State of Our World refreshing. In this book, Wright illustrates the easily-forgotten difference between the way things are and the way things ought to be. On his chapter on education (titled “Are We Dumber than We Used to Be?”), Wright’s treatment of his topic is typical for what occurs throughout the book: despite common perception, things are getting better for more people. The chapter also includes several snapshots (“Christians Making a Difference”) of people and organization that have helped to bring these trends about.

Wright treats the following topics in Chapters 2 through 9:

  • Why we have such a negative view on the way things are (here he discusses the impact of advocates, anecdotes, short-term fluctuations, bad statistics, nostalgia, unrealistic expectations, the media, and Christians)
  • Are we worse off financially than we used to be?
  • Are we dumber than we used to be? (mentioned above)
  • Are we sicker than we used to be?
  • Are we stressed and unhappy?
  • Are crime and war on the rise while freedom and faith decline?
  • Are marriages and families declining?
  • Is the environment doomed?
I appreciate the overall message of this book: that we often confuse our idea of the way things ought to be with the way things actually are. Wright never makes the claim that things are perfect–even a lower starvation rate is still a starvation rate–but he does a great job at pointing at that, on the whole, things are improving. This book will encourage you to continue pursuing the way things ought to be while giving thanks for the work God is doing around the world.

Buy it at Amazon.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tim Keller on Preaching

In his blog article “Lloyd-Jones on the Practice of Real Preaching,” Tim Keller gleans some points from Lloyd-Jones’ Preaching and Preachers. I am not a preacher, but I found that much of what I’ve been thinking lately about church and service and the gospel for all of life is addressed in Keller’s article.

Keller draws two points out from Lloyd-Jones’ writing: that people will come to hear preaching, even in our contemporary culture, but that 1) it must be real preaching and 2) it must be done over the long term.

Keller describes the allure of real preaching: “[Vistors] will be shocked at how convicting and attractive the gospel message is, and they will feel like they’ve never really heard it before (even if they have been raised in a church)”. I find that, the more I think about the gospel and seek to bring it to bear on the questions that contemporary teachers, the more they resonate with the message–even when it is starkly convicting, which of course it must be. The gospel does not need to be manipulated to become attractive to outsiders–it merely needs to be clearly communicated and applied to the questions being asked by contemporary people.

Lloyd-Jones, Keller writes, was worried about the preaching veering into either of two extremes: on the one hand, adapting it too much into the image of the culture, and, on the other hand, making it so objective that it becomes dry and intellectual. Preaching should be “profoundly life-related, [and] the preacher’s tone must not be affected and ‘parsonic’ but genuine, passionate, and transparent. If you listen to the [Lloyd-Jones]’s evening sermons in particular, you learn that he was always referring to current events and intellectual trends, often expounding Scripture in order to answer the questions posed by the culture. So the preaching must not be just a ‘running commentary’ or an overly-cognitive explanation of the text, but must have shape and passion and connect forcefully with the heart and life of the congregant” (Keller).

One final connection I made with Keller’s article is that of the need for patience if we are to become fair communicators of the gospel. To be a preacher who does real preaching, Keller commends the unpopular notion that it takes a long, steady work:

“[I]t requires many years and hundreds of sermons before a preacher becomes as good as they have the capacity to be. Some of that means the preacher staying put and becoming involved enough in the lives of the people and city so as to be able to address their questions and issues well from the Scripture. Some of that means coming to understand the Bible well enough to always make it clear. Some of it means years of repentance and prayer that creates an increasingly holy, transparent character.”

Go ahead and substitute “teacher” for “preacher” in the preceding quotation, and you’ll have an idea of what I think it takes to become an increasingly gospel-centered, excellent public school teacher.