What Are You Going to Read This New Year?

By: Brian Borgman

New Years is a great time to reset your resolve and set your sights on spiritual pursuits. We are commanded to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:16). Reading is an important part of the growth process. Let me give you some unasked for advice about reading.

If you struggle with reading, start by reading Gene Veith’s booklet, Why God Gave Us a Book (available in the bookroom). God speaks to us through His Word. If we are not in His Word daily, then who are we really listening to? Our own hearts? (Scary!) The media? Our favorite pundit?

We need to hear from God. We hear from Him when the Word is taught and preached. We hear from Him when we read His Word, meditate on it and hide it in our hearts. Here is my annual plug for a reading plan. Why a reading plan? Because reading plans (1) keep us disciplined and (2) they help us to read the Word widely. If left to ourselves, to just read wherever “we feel led” we will be led to sporadic reading and that in a rather disconnected way. Choose a plan that is suitable for you. There are many to choose from and we provide some for you every year.

So our first and foremost priority needs to be reading God’s Word. We should be people of the book. But we should also be reading books that supplement our understanding and edify us. The Reformation got people reading. In the Puritan era, people became readers. Reading Christian books is a part of our wonderful heritage.

If you struggle finding time to read, be creative in redeeming the time to read. If we are proactive and accustomed to taking a book with us when we are out and about, we will find 10 minutes here and 20 minutes there. Also, keep a reading project strategically located in key locations. Keep a devotional book with your Bible so that you can get a few minutes every day.

But also choose books that will feed your soul. I am currently loving both Ichthus: Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior by Sinclair Ferguson and Derek Thomas and Knowing Christ by Mark Jones. Both titles are published by Banner of Truth. Both books are a delight because they focus on the Lord Jesus Christ. They are devotionally written. Of course, there are other reading projects that we should take up. If I were to create a “Christian’s Must Read” list, it would look something like this:

  • J.I. Packer, Knowing God
  • J.C. Ryle, Holiness
  • John Owen, Sin and Temptation
  • John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress
  • Calvin’s Institutes
  • John Piper, Desiring God and The Pleasures of God
  • Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections
  • Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness and Trusting God
  • And an assortment of Christian biographies (I give a big bibliography in Feelings and Faith).

Be careful and don’t waste time reading books that won’t edify. Generally, avoid Christian books that are on best-sellers list. Generally, fluff and/or heresy. Spend your time on proven books and proven authors. If a certain author writes a new book, I will buy it out of principle, because of their track record (that list is pretty short for me: D.A. Carson, Tom Schreiner, Doug Moo, John Piper, J.I. Packer, Sinclair Ferguson, John Frame to name a few. I also keep my eyes out for reprints of classic works and new Greek grammars!).

So this new year, set your sights on some reading goals. Make them modest. Prioritize the Bible. Select a good book and stick with it. May 2016 be a year filled with hearing from God and learning more about Him and His ways.

Resentful and Angry

By: Brian Borgman

I am reading through the Old Testament in the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Sometimes a different translation provides a fresh reading of well-known passages. Such was the case today in reading about Ahab in 1 Kings 20-21. R.G. Lee described Ahab as that “vile human toad who squatted befoulingly on the throne of the nation.” In 1 Kings 20 God gives an amazing victory to Israel (and thus Ahab) over Ben-Hadad. One hundred thousand Arameans dead in one day.

Then Ahab, in an act of treason, treats the murderous Ben-Hadad as a brother (1 Kg 20:32-34). Ahab not only welcomes him but restores cities to him. God sends a prophet to rebuke Ahab (35-42). The word of the prophet is strong stuff, “your life in the place of his life, and your people in the place of his people” (42). Here is where the new translation comes in, “The king of Israel left for home resentful and angry.”

Resentful and angry.

It caught my attention.

The next scene with the “toad” on Israel’s throne is truly grievous. Ahab wants Naboth’s vineyard, but Naboth, staying true to his covenant principles of inheritance, refuses to give it to the king (1 Kings 20:1-3). Then again the text says, “So Ahab went to his palace resentful and angry” (4). The rest of the story is a tragedy, revealing that sometimes the righteous are not vindicated in this life.

The wicked Jezebel enters the scene. R.G. Lee said of Jezebel, “Most of that which is bad in all evil women found expression through this painted viper of Israel.” The “painted viper” assures the pouting “toad” that all will be well and Naboth’s vineyard will be his. She sets up Naboth, brings forth false charges and has him executed. The “toad” got the vineyard (7-16).

What we have is a narcissistic, resentful, angry, selfish man who treats Israel’s enemies as his friends and Israel’s friends as his enemies. His wickedness is only surpassed by the wickedness of his painted viperous wife, Jezebel. And yet God sends another word to him through the prophet Elijah. This word of judgment is strong and vivid. It is more detailed than the previous word which left Ahab “resentful and angry.” But then, truly out of the blue, Ahab repents (21:27).

Yahweh seems impressed as He relays Ahab’s repentance to Elijah. He also delays judgment in light of Ahab’s repentance (29). This really doesn’t seem fair. We think of wicked Ben-Hadad, we think of righteous Naboth and we seethe with anger towards that “resentful and angry” Ahab. Ahab, who resents the Word of the Lord, Ahab who is angry when he doesn’t get his own way, Ahab who tramples the righteous and exalts the wicked, seems to get off scot free.

On a related note, it is telling of our own understanding and spiritual condition when we find ourselves growing resentful and angry because God showed Ahab grace and not justice.

In the end, it does not seem that Ahab’s repentance is a lasting repentance. In the next chapter he again is resentful against the word of the Lord (1 Kings 21). In chapter 22, God’s judgment comes with a divinely appointed and sovereignly directed arrow. “Pay Day — Someday” is written in the constitution of God’s universe. The retributive providence of God is a reality as certainly as the laws of gravitation are a reality,” said R.G. Lee. No it does not pay to be a “resentful, angry” person. These are sins which are tough to root out of the heart, as Ahab proves.

Whatever Ahab’s ultimate destiny was, these passages in 1 Kings show the power of sin to blind and engulf the soul. They show the danger of being resentful to God’s Word and the danger of living life just wanting what we want and getting angry when we don’t get it. The only remedy for the “resentful and angry” is the cross of Jesus. He alone can cleanse us from the resentments that poison our hearts. He alone can uproot the anger which controls and corrupts us. He alone, by His grace and Spirit, can teach us “not to let the sun go down on our anger” (Eph. 4:27-27). By the grace of His forgiveness, we in turn can be freed from bitterness and resentment and anger (Eph. 4:31-32).

Ask God to open your eyes, the angry and resentful always think they are in the right (see Ahab’s reaction to the prophet Micaiah (1 Kings 22). Being an angry and resentful person is always a recipe for disaster. Ahab is the lasting monument to its blinding effects.

I am a Rock, I am an Island

By: Brian Borgman

In 1965 Paul Simon wrote,

 I’ve built walls
A fortress, steep and mighty
That none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship
Friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock
I am an island…
And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries

In the 10th century, BC, Solomon wrote,
He who separates himself seeks his own desire, He quarrels against all sound wisdom. (Prov 18:1).

Sometimes isolation can be good. Sometimes we need to get away, clear our heads, feed our souls and seek God. Being an island may serve a short-term purpose. But we were not created, or redeemed, for isolation. Isolation is dangerous, seriously dangerous. God built us for community and when we isolate ourselves from the community He has put us in, we find that our heads and hearts can get fatally self-absorbed. This proverb warns us against isolation. Since Solomon is addressing the covenant community, it seems obvious that his primary concern is isolation from the covenant community. Let’s look at the reasons for isolation.

Reasons for Isolation

This proverb says that we isolate ourselves because we “seek our own desire.” The HCSB says, “One who isolates himself pursues selfish desires.” There is something unmistakably self-centered about separating ourselves from others in the body of Christ. Bruce Waltke notes, “He alienates himself from the community as he seeks self-gratification.”  The isolationist doesn’t want any conflict with his own opinions, his own priorities or his own pride. He wants to be left alone in his own self-made little world, where no truth is uncomfortable, where no person is an irritant. “An island feels no pains.” He wants to be with the only person he agrees with and the only person he likes, himself. The results are devastating.

Results of Isolation

The proverbs says that the one who has isolated himself becomes a rebel of sorts. “He breaks out against all sound judgment” (ESV), “He rejects all sound judgment” (NET). The rebellion, driven by pride and self-centeredness, manifests itself by thinking the rebel is the smartest guy in the room. If that’s the case, the rebel thinks he ought to be the only guy in the room. Nobody is as smart, or as wise as the one in isolation. The isolated one has figured out all truth, he has judged the hearts of others, he has idolized his likes and dislikes. All arguments on rejoining oneself to the community fall on deaf ears and are met with biting words. No one understands, no one is as insightful as the isolated one. This is such a foolish and dangerous place to be. Cornelius Plantinga has memorably said, “Like a neurotic and therapeutically shelf-worn little god, the human heart keeps ending discussions by insisting that it wants what it wants.”

In a recent blog post for the Gospel Coalition, Garrett Kell, writing about fallen leaders, said, “Sin thrives in isolation. Satan lives in the darkness and longs to keep us there. Lies live best in the darkness. That’s why when God calls us to Himself, He calls us into the church.”

Isolation is the place of fools. It is the place of denial that we need anyone except ourselves. In that place of isolation, we exalt ourselves, our own resources, our own abilities, forgetting that we are rebelling against the very wisdom of God. In Bryan Jeffrey Leech’s hymn, We Are God’s People (#355 in our Trinity Hymnal) he writes,

We are a temple, the Spirit’s dwelling place,
Formed in great weakness, a cup to hold God’s grace;
We die alone, for on its own each ember loses fire:
Yet joined in one the flame burns on to give warmth and light and to inspire.

Ultimately, isolation is the place of death. The rock may feel no pain and the island may never cry, but they die alone.

Charles Spurgeon once visited one of his deacons who had isolated himself from church. Spurgeon walked into the man’s home without saying a word. The deacon clearly felt uncomfortable. Spurgeon sat in front the fire place, looking intently at the fire. Spurgeon took some tongs and pulled out one of the coals and set it on the brick. The two men stared at the lonesome coal as it dimmed and cooled. Spurgeon stood up, walked to the door, put on his coat. As he opened the door the deacon said, “I understand pastor, I will see you next Sunday.”

Do not be an island, do not isolate yourself from others. You can avoid pain that way, but you also rebel against God’s greater wisdom of being in community with other believers. Don’t allow the toxic root of pride to color your perspective. Pride will tell you in no uncertain terms that you don’t need others and isolation promises a blissful deliverance from people who make your life miserable. God’s wisdom is greater than yours and He knows what you need better than you do and He says you need the body.