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My Review of Walking Through Infertility by Matthew Arbo

I was drawn to read and review Walking Through Infertility: Biblical, Theological, and Moral Counsel For Those who are Struggling by Matthew Arbo because my wife and I have a number of friends who are experiencing infertility. Furthermore, for the short time that I have been in ministry, I have come to discover that this is not uncommon problem among God’s people.

The book is primarily written for couples who are not able to have their own biological children and secondarily for those who desire to minister to them. Its main purpose is “to address biblical, theological, and moral questions surrounding infertility. The aim is to instruct and inspire the church, especially, those couples with personal experience with infertility” (p. 21).

Walking Through Infertility is divided into four main chapters. The first chapter surveys the biblical stories of infertility and how God proved his faithfulness to his people. The second chapter focuses on following Christ despite the trial of not being able to have your own biological children. The third chapter centers on the church and how a childless couple can find help and comfort from fellow believers. The last chapter analyses various ethical and moral considerations regarding modern methods of helping infertile couples to conceive and give birth.

I would say that the book’s greatest strength lies in the last chapter. Arbo goes into detail to explain the modern reproductive technologies and the ethical dilemmas they pose to Christians. In as much as we should thank God for the advancements in modern medicine and medical innovations, we also need to be aware that not all of them are without moral quandaries. Arbo’s discussion of intrauterine insemination (IUI), intro vitro fertilization (IVF), and surrogacy is outstanding. I would greatly recommend any Christian who might have questions or considering these reproductive technologies to prayerfully read this section.

IUI involves a medical expert taking a man’s sperm and inserting it into a woman’s uterus during ovulation to increase chances of conception while IVF is very complex and involves a medical expert taking a man’s sperm and woman’s eggs and fertilizing them in a laboratory and later implanting the embryo in the woman’s uterus.  Surrogacy entails a couple contracting with a woman to carry their biological child to term and surrender it back to them at birth. As you might see these methods raises a number of ethical and theological concerns. Should or can a Christian use any of these methods with a clear conscience?

Arbo does not leave the couple struggling with infertility to answer this question on their own. Instead he biblically and pastorally challenges them “to consider whether the relation between conception and sex is sacred and the manner of procreation as designed by God is open to amendment?” Towards the very end of the book, he encourages a couple experiencing infertility to consult, do the hard work of listening, thinking and praying for God’s wisdom. “Speak with others you trust—family, friends, pastors—and do the hard work of listening and thinking and praying. Wise is the one who heeds a sound word of instruction. In Christ are the riches of wisdom, and if anyone lacks wisdom, ‘let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him’ (James 1:5).”

This is why I say that the last chapter is the best part of the book. Not only because of its biblical and pastoral approach to these ethical issues but also because it explains very complex reproductive technologies in an easier to understand language for less scientifically sophisticated Christians like me.

Disclosure: Crossway has given me a courtesy copy of the book for this review.

 

 

 

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Christianity and theology, Uncategorized

Christmas Reflections: God’s Gracious Choice of Mary

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus,”(Luke 1:26-31).

Why did God choose Mary to be the mother of Christ? What did God see in Mary that moved him to choose her to be God-bearer? The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) responds and says that by God’s grace Mary was born sinless that is why she was chosen by God. RCC calls this the doctrine of Immaculate Conception. However, basing on the evidence of Scripture we see that there was nothing so special with Mary. Mary did nothing to deserve the honor of bringing Christ into this world. It was purely God’s gracious choice. Consider the following:

First, Mary as a descendant of Adam was a sinner just like every one else born in this world (Romans 5:12). In fact just like Jesus’ great grandfather, David, Mary was also brought forth in iniquity and in sin did her mother conceive her (Psalm 51:5).

Second, Mary was from a poor background. In her song of praise also known as the Magnificat recorded for us in Luke 2:46-55, she confesses of her humble estate and says: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant” (46, 47). Later she adds, “For he who is might has done great things for me…he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate (49, 52).

John Calvin comment on these verses observes, “This was not the loud cry of a pretended humility, but the plain and honest statement of that conviction which was engraven on her mind; for she was of no account in the eyes of the world, and her estimation of herself was nothing more.”

Third, Mary was from a very little known village of Nazareth.  She was neither from the capital of Israel nor any of its big cities. The insignificant village of Nazareth was not even mentioned in the Old Testament or other Jewish literature of that time. It is also believed that it was a popular saying in those days in Israel to ask the rhetoric question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Yet it is to this obscure village, which nobody expected anything good to come out of that God went for the choice of the mother of his incarnate Son.

Mary’s story resembles the story of our salvation. God chose to save us through Christ not because he saw anything special in us to move him to act in our favor. Apostle Paul reminds us: “For consider your calling, brothers (and sisters): not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,” (1 Cor. 1:26-30).

This, friends, is the heart of Christmas. God “tabernacled” with us not because we were lovely, righteous or friendly. To the contrary, God came to dwell with us despite being lowly, sinful, and with rebellious hearts. He came to save us from our most pitiful and hopeless state and to enable us sit with him in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). Praise the Lord for his gracious and sovereign choice!

 

 

 

 

 

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Christianity and Society

The Agony of Prosperity Gospel: “It is Less About God and More About Feeling Good.”

Photo credit: Enrichment Journal

A recent research by the University of Toronto’s department of psychology  in the Faculty of Arts & Science has found out that exposure to prosperity gospel (PG) makes you more likely to show an exaggerated and unrealistic sense of optimism for life and take more financial risks.

In the press release about the findings of the research, the study’s lead author, Nick Hobson, Ph. D. makes this important observation, “Its (prosperity gospel’s) success as a growing religious movement might be less about feeling (sic) God, and more about feeling good.”

Now this is very interesting especially that it is coming from a non-Christian institution. Here Hobson has put his finger on it and it should not surprise us because that’s exactly what the Bible teaches.  PG is not the gospel. There is only one gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified. The PG is neither about nor for Christ but actually against Christ. This is why Apostle Paul anathematizes anyone who preaches it: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said it before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8, 9).

Further as the research notes, PG is about manipulating people through their volatile emotions rather than pointing them to their greatest need of salvation in Christ. Apostle Peter already warned us against the destructive nature of PG.  Writing of devious and false teachers who include PG preachers the apostle cautioned: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you…And in their greed they will exploit you (“make merchandize of you,” KJV) with false words” (2 Peter 2:1-4). There is no better description of the PG and its preachers than what the apostle gives here. The PG never seeks the good of its hearers but as lie from the pit of hell seeks to destroy them.

The PG has been weighed on the secular scale and has been found wanting. No need to mention that it also fails miserably on the biblical scale. So to those who are still trapped in the yoke of PG, hear the words of the gospel of Christ. Christ’s greatest gift is not material wealth. It is not an excellent health. These he can give if he pleases. His greatest gift is salvation from the wrath of come. Christ is the bread of life that endures to eternity. Labour not for the riches of this world, which are here today and gone tomorrow. What shall it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?  Come to Christ, rest in him, labour faithfully with your hands, and trust him to provide for all your needs (Matt. 6:25-34).

 

 

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Uncategorized

Why Does the LORD Sometimes Take “Long” to Answer our Prayers

Pastor Andrew Brunson

This is the question that came to my mind this afternoon as I was reflecting on the news of the release of an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, who was being held in prison and later under house arrest by the Turkish Authorities for the last two years. I should highlight on the onset that I have never met Bruson neither do I know him personally. The only connection I have with him is our common faith in Christ. But I got more interested in his case begin from the day he was arrested.

On that day I was undergoing licensure examinations on the floor of the Northeast Presbytery of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Maryland. Soon after the examinations one of the pastors at the Presbytery meeting whose church had previously supported Bruson as a missionary shared with the meeting about his arrest and asked us to pray for him.

We prayed. I also continued to pray for him as often as I remembered.  So, this afternoon when I received an update from ARP magazine that Bruson has finally been acquitted by the Turkish court, a great joy of thankfulness filled my heart. I praised the Lord for answering prayers of thousands or even millions who were praying for the pastor. But it wasn’t long before my joy was consumed by this question: Why did it take this long before the Lord answered the prayers of his people. Why did the Lord wait for two years to answer the prayers of Bruson himself, his family, relatives, and others saints including the ARP Northeast Presbytery?

I don’t have the answer to this question? I don’t even know if anyone has the answer. But as I continued to ponder, Romans 8:28 came to mind: “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” It also dawned on me that I am not the first one to wonder. David as he was passing through trials and prayed also wondered “How long O Lord will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1). David had prayed for a “long time” but the Lord seemed not to respond with the needed promptness.

I think the hymn writer was right:

By and by, when the morning comes,

When the saints of God are gathered home,

We’ll tell the story how we’ve overcome

For we’ll understand it better by and by.

Praise the Lord for the release of Brunson. Praise the Lord for many prayers that the saints throughout the world sent before the throne of grace. Praise be to God for answering our prayers. To Him alone be the glory, forever!

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My Life as a Christian

From My Devotions This Morning… (10/03/2018)

Tough Love

“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works”– 2 John 10, 11.

At the heart of Christianity is love. Paul reminds us that of the three, faith, hope, and love, the greatest is love (1 Cor. 13:13). However, we should not confuse love with tolerance of falsehood. Love does not mean paying a blind eye to heresy that threatens to destroy the Church.  Christians must never give approval or support to false teachers. Those who preach the false gospel, which is no gospel at all, are not misguided brothers but the enemies of the cross of Christ (Phil. 3:18). Of course, we should pray for them, love them while hating their falsehood, show them their error, and strongly challenge them to repent. But Christians should not offer them any encouragement or hospitality for it might be interpreted as a sign of approval. The false teachers might also take advantage of any hospitality shown to them to pounce on the unsuspecting and vulnerable people with their heresies. This for sure is tough love.

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Christianity and theology

My Review of Conrad Mbewe’s Pastoral Preaching

I wrote this review a year ago and was posted on another site which currently is not active. I am posting it here for those who will find it helpful but cannot access it on the other site.  

Reviewing Dr. Conrad Mbewe’s Pastoral preaching: Building a People for God is a very huge task for me mainly for two reasons: first, Mbewe is not only a friend but also a seasoned and gifted preacher who has been faithfully preaching the gospel for over 30 years while I am a fledging preacher. Second, I am a Presbyterian and Conrad is a Baptist and as they say, “Baptists are good preachers while Presbyterian are good scholars” (please take that with a grain of salt).

However, I have decided to undertake this exercise because I believe that Pastoral Preaching is one of the great books that pastors, more especially in Africa, need to read and apply the helpful insights and principles therein to their pastoral ministries. As far as I know, this isprobably the first published book on preaching written by an African Reformed preacher apart from Dr. O. Palmer Robertson’s Preaching Made Practical.  I always consider Robertson as an African owing to many years he has spent in Africa training preachers and Christian leaders and also because he wrote Preaching Made Practical with a true African touch.

Pastoral Preaching was released at the beginning of 2017 by Langham Preaching Resources. In the book, Mbewe begins by highlighting why he decided to write. He had noticed that more often than not the preaching in Africa is not producing believers who are spiritually mature because more pulpits are occupied by motivational speakers rather than preachers. The important role of preaching has also been replaced by exorcism services and entertaining “worship” in many churches. Although the problem is not unique to Africa, the continent scores highly on the chart.

Mbewe has also strove to make the book more relevant and easily understood by an African readership. He is totally aware that the essence of effective communication is good understanding of your audience. For instance, Mbewe substitutes the expression, “the tip of an iceberg,” with an illustration of thatching a house (p. 1). Then he goes on to note, “As your read this book you will soon discover that my primary audience is pastors serving in Africa. This is deliberate. Pastors in the Western world have so many Bible colleges and seminaries and so many books on pastoral ministry that to write for them would be like adding a drop to an ocean” (p.4). He then adds, “I appreciate the principles being taught (by Western authors) but I often find the authors shooting over the heads of those who live in my own neighborhood, who have not been exposed to the thought patterns and idioms of the Western world…So, what I have done in this book is basically to take the same principles and clothe them in the African attire” (p.4).

Mbewe also makes it clear at the beginning of the book that Pastoral Preaching is not a homiletics book. (Homiletics can basically be defined as the art of preparing and delivering sermons). Rather, his book is concerned with how preaching should be done in a pastoral context. “In this book I am addressing a number of key areas related to preaching in a pastoral context” (p. 2). This means that if one is looking for a book that guides you through the stages of sermon preparation, this book is not ideal for that undertaking. Yet, despite not concentrating on preparing and delivering sermons, in chapters 13-15, Mbewe takes time to briefly guide the preacher on how he can develop sermons from narratives (stories), didactic passages (passages that contain instructions), and poetic and prophetic passages of the Bible. In chapter 11, he also tackles how a preacher can craft an introduction, body and conclusion. Mbewe, further, discusses the effective use of illustrations and applications. He concludes the chapter by writing on how a preacher can modulate his voice and gestures and maintain a good eye contact.

Pastoral Preaching reveals the pastoral heart of Mbewe. As you read the book, you realize that he is not a hireling but an undershepherd of Christ who fully understands and cares for the challenges that pastors and Christians in Africa face. He endeavors to propose some measures that might alleviate these problems.  For instance, for the lack of formal training for many pastors in Africa, he encourages the old but trusted approach of having men trained under a more mature and godly minister. Obviously, he does not argue that formal training is irrelevant; however, in cases where it is impossible to attain such training, this approach will suffice.

Mbewe also points out the need for congregations to fulfill their biblical mandate to take care and support those who labour among them faithfully despite that many African Christians live with limited resources. In chapters 17-18, he discusses the importance of godliness in the lives of ministers. He gives an ever-timely admonition: “It is vital to remember that as a pastor you are first of all a Christian. You are a sheep before you are a shepherd. Therefore, all the pleas in Scripture for a Christian to live a godly life apply to you as well…You live in a fallen world and struggle with the remains of your own fallen nature, and so you must pursue holiness in the same way that every Christian is urged to do so” (p. 163).

One area, which I wish Mbewe, could have given more thought is the distinction he makes between evangelistic and pastoral preaching. “Evangelistic preaching is needed to bring sinners into the kingdom” and pastoral preaching is “to help those who have come to Christ to grow spiritually” (p.9). I found this distinction to be somewhat confusing in the sense that it seems to imply that evangelistic preaching is not pastoral. Mbewe somehow realizes that and points out, “Although I have made a clear distinction between evangelistic and pastoral preaching, I am not suggesting that pastors need to choose one over the other. Pastors are called to do both…So, the two types of preaching are not necessarily mutually exclusive” (p. 14). He further discusses the difference in chapter 2 as he uses the illustration of a pastor as a shepherd (p. 18-19).

Despite the effort to convince the reader of this difference in chapters 1 and 2, I still think that Mbewe’s distinction is “artificial” as he rightly observes in chapter 1 (p.9) because both evangelistic and teaching aspects should be understood as being part and parcel of pastoral preaching. Evangelistic preaching is pastoral preaching. Perhaps a better distinction could have been evangelistic and doctrinal or instructional preaching (“doctrinal” meaning “teaching” from the Greek word “didache”) as Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones rightly distinguishes in his masterpiece on preaching, Preaching and Preachers.  “It is important that we should recognize these two main sections in the message of the Bible. The first is what you may call the message of salvation, the kerygma, that is what determines evangelistic preaching. The second is the teaching aspect, the didache, that which builds up those who have already believed – the edification of the saints”  (© 1971 by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Zondervan Publishers, p. 62).

But this is a small detail compared to the rich gold that my fellow African preachers would mine from the book. I can’t agree more with John  MacArthur who observes that  the book embodies all the qualities of the preaching ministry of Mbewe, which are clarity, accuracy, thoroughness, courage, insight, and uncompromising faithfulness to the text of Scripture. That is undeniably true of Pastoral Preaching: Building a People for God.

 

 

 

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Uncategorized

My Review of Spurgeon on the Christian Life by Michael Reeves*

It is my humble estimation that Charles Haddon Spurgeon is one of the most gifted preachers of the post Reformation era. His sermons still come alive when read today. It is little wonder then that many have labeled him the prince of preachers and deservedly so. But who was this man? Apart from his preaching what else can a Christian learn from his life and ministry? What did he teach and believe about the Christian life in this fallen world?

These are some of the key questions that Michael Reeves answers in his book Spurgeon on the Christian Life published by Crossway in 2018. Reeves himself captures the essence of his book in the introduction by observing, “This book is about Spurgeon’s theology of the Christian life…Spurgeon was unreservedly Christ-centered and Christ-shaped in his theology; and he was equally insistent on the vital necessity of the new birth. The Christian life is the new life in Christ, given by the Spirit and won by the blood of Christ shed on the cross” (p. 16).

In the first part of the book, Reeves focuses more on the life of Spurgeon. He shows how Spurgeon was a tender, affection, and generous man of deep affection for people. Spurgeon’s sense of humor could also hardly be concealed even when he was on the pulpit. In the second part, Reeves dwells more on Spurgeon’s love for Christ and his word and how this love shaped Spurgeon’s life and ministry. He also shows how John Calvin, the Puritans, and the Reformed theology significantly impacted Spurgeon’s preaching. The third and fourth parts of the book center on Spurgeon’s beliefs and teaching regarding new birth, baptism, sanctification, prayer, Christian’s suffering, and final glory.

Though not a full biography of Spurgeon I would highly recommend this book as an introduction to the life and ministry of Spurgeon, especially, for those who hardly know this man or have read little about him. Many primary sources have been cited in the book, which also act as excellent materials for further study or exploration. These primary sources also allow Spurgeon to speak for himself what he believed about the Christian life. The other strength of the book is that it is very engaging and is easier to read. Many sections of the third and fourth chapter are also good devotional materials.

As the title suggests, my initial expectation was to see more of what Spurgeon believed about many aspects of the Christian life.  However, you don’t get to that until you reach the third and fourth parts of the book. This, in my view, is one of the weak areas of the book. In addition to that my fellow Presbyterian and Reformed friends would find the section on Spurgeon’s beliefs about infant baptism, I prefer to call it covenantal baptism, to be the gloomiest part of the book (pp. 89-91). Reeves focuses more on what Spurgeon believed were the errors associated with paedobaptism without making a fair presentation of what actually the Reformed faith teaches about covenantal baptism.  May be that was beyond the objectives of the book; nonetheless, I wish Reeves would have at least briefly provided some biblical grounds why Presbyterians and Reformed believers baptize their children as well as highlight that covenantal baptism is not a baptismal regeneration as Spurgeon incorrectly argued.

All in all, Spurgeon on the Christian Life is a good book. It is well researched and provides a good starting point to get acquainted with the man who many fondly remember as the prince of preachers. Spurgeon on the Christian Lifewill definitely leave your mind informed and your hart warmed.

*Crossway has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book.

 

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