Book Review: How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home by Derek WH Thomas

When one conversations arise regarding the book in the Bible that most clearly teaches doctrine and theology Romans immediately comes to the forefront.  Some of the deepest chapters in Romans are found in the middle of the book, with Chapter 8 being one of those chapters.  How the Gospel Brings Us All The Way Home by Derek WH Thomas takes us, verse-by-verse, through Romans chapter 8.  While the chapters are short and easy to read (meaning their syntax and word choice are not difficult to follow), each paragraph is packed with deep truths regarding God and our relationship with Him – like the entire book of Romans (and especially chapter 8), one could read this commentary over and over and over and still find new insights.

For those unfamiliar with Romans 8, it is the section in scripture where Paul exposits truths such as

  • There is no condemnation in Christ
  • We are set free by the Spirit
  • The Spirit dwells in us
  • We are co-heirs with Chris
  • God is our Daddy (“Abba”)
  • Present sufferings do not compare with future glories
  • The entire earth is experiencing birth pains because of the fall
  • The Spirit prays on our behalf
  • All things work for good for God’s children
  • The purpose of our election
  • No one can bring any charge against us
  • No one can condemn us
  • Nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ
  • We are more than conquerors in Christ

The book was written after the author delivered a series of sermons on Romans 8, and, as such, each chapter reads like a concise, well-delivered sermon.  Each of the bullets above is explored in the book, and, as such, this would be a great book for both new Christians in need of a solid foundation and veteran believers who need a good reminder of the foundations of our faith.  I’ll give this book 4.5/5 stars and highly recommend it (I wish I would have read it years ago and it is certainly one I’ll go back and read again!)  I was honesty surprised at how easy the book was to read – so many theology books read like seminary textbooks, but this one was very conversational in tone and easy to understand.  While a certain level of basic doctrine would help one understand it, most terms are defined within the book itself and so it would be easily navigable by just about anyone.

For the record, I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest (though not necessarily favorable) review.


Becoming the Transforming Presence of Christ (3.31)

Today, June 12, marks the liturgical celebration of Pentecost – the festival celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit to Christian believers (Acts 2), fulfilling the promise given by Jesus in John 14.  In terms of church history Pentecost marked the beginning of the Christian church as we understand it – in terms of theology the implications of God giving us His Spirit are unfathomable.

This past week at my early-morning men’s Bible study we were looking at Acts 2 and the miracle that took place on that day.  As part of my preparation for our meeting I read through our daily devotional and was hit square in the face by the following statement:

“Peter wants all who hear him to know that the Spirit, when poured out upon the people, makes prophets of sons and daughters, visionaries of young men and women, and dreamers of the elderly.  Prophets, visionaries, and dreamers comprise an odd lot.  They are the ones who seem out of step because they are one step ahead of the rest of us.

“Jesus had lived, died and been raised from the dead.  He had now ascended into heaven.  No longer is he a physical presence on earth.  Who will carry on?  How will they carry on?

Ordinary men and women will become the transforming presence of Christ.  The outpouring of the Holy Spirit will empower and equip [us] for the missionary effort that will change the world as [we] become the prophets, visionaries, and dreamers.” (emphasis mine)

Do you see what it says?  That we – you and me – are God’s plan to reach the lost.  There is no backup-plan, no alternate, no “Plan B” – we are it.  If we don’t follow God and share his love with those around us no one will.  I left our meeting that morning asking (and I’ve been asking myself every day since then), “How do I act as the transforming presence of Christ in others’ lives?”  To my shame, the answer is that too often I allow fear to inhibit my playing of the part.

Read what Paul wrote to the Romans in Romans 10:11-17:

“Scripture reassures us, “No one who trusts God like this—heart and soul—will ever regret it.” It’s exactly the same no matter what a person’s religious background may be: the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help. “Everyone who calls, ‘Help, God!’ gets help.”

“But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it?” (The Message)

As we depart for the summer I challenge you to find a way to be that person who shares Jesus with people you meet; I challenge us all to never fear following Him and sharing Him with a lost and hurting word.  Because if we don’t who will?

The Student Becomes the Teacher (3.27)

Note: This devotional is an adaptation of a blog post I did on Reflections of a Christian Daddy

Celeste is not an affectionate child by any stretch of the imagination – if I ask for a hug or a kiss I’m promptly met with a curt “No.”  She is not a big cuddler and has only recently started to allow me to rock her after reading her stories at bed time (but I still have to put her down before she falls asleep).  For the record, yes, she is a Daddy’s girl, and yet she still sometimes treats me like the plague

This past week, though, two special moments happened.  She has, in the past couple of months, allowed me to rock her for a little while after we read stories and before she goes to bed.  One evening I was rocking her with the lullaby playing and she rolled over and said, “Shoulder, Daddy, shoulder.” (translation: “Daddy, I want to lay my head down on your shoulder.”)  So she promptly rolled over and put her head on my shoulder.  We rocked for several minutes listening to her lullaby and she looked up and gave me a kiss on my cheek – out of the blue.  I said, “Lestee, did you just give me a kiss on my cheek?” and she replied, “Yes, Daddy.  I wuv oo much.”  Then she did it a second time.

The other new thing that happened this week is that twice (read that again – TWICE) she fell asleep while I was rocking her.  Both times she told me, “Shoulder, Daddy, shoulder.” and the next thing I knew she was fast asleep.  So I just continued to rock her for another few minutes and enjoyed my daughter resting in my arms.

Now she doesn’t do it often – I can count these incidents on one hand (and still have fingers to spare!) – but when she does it is very special.  As I sat there today I realized that part of the reason she can rest like that in my arms is because she trusts me: trusts me to protect her, care for her, treasure her, and not to harm her.  And within that trust she can lay down and rest.

Isn’t it interesting that God told the Hebrews to call him “Abba”?  The best English translation I’ve heard for “Abba” is “Daddy”.  Mark Driscoll once said in a sermon that if we want to understand prayer we need to listen to how a toddler talks to their Daddy.   If Celeste can rest in my arms because she knows I will protect, care for, and treasure her and never harm her – me, imperfect Tom – then why is it I have so much trouble resting in the arms of my Daddy – my perfect Daddy?  Surely He will protect, care for, and treasure me infinitely more than I do Celeste, and surely he will not harm me.  Why is it my little girls can talk to me about the most mundane things – and I love it when they do – but so often I treat God as nothing more than the Cosmic Santa Claus who is there to grant my “wishes” and then I get upset when he doesn’t?

Check out these scriptures:

Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” (Rom 8:15)

And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” (Gal 4:6)

So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him. (Matt 7:11)

I believe this is one of those examples where our kids teach us more than we teach them.  What’s that saying?  “Out of the mouth of babes?”  Well, in this case, it wasn’t out of the mouth of babes, but it was certainly from the actions of one…

Pizzazz! (3.10)

This past weekend I one again got to enjoy the outdoors for awhile.  Melissa and I spent a few nights by ourselves staying at a house in Bath on the Back Creek.  The weather was beautiful while we were there – clear, blue skies and mild temperatures.  One morning I went out and took some pictures of the river – smooth as a glass mirror – and the trees surrounding it, radiant with vibrant hues from across the color spectrum.  Saturday morning we even spent a few hours out on the kayak paddling up and down the creek, admiring the birds and the beauty of God’s creation.

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I also got a chance to read one of my favorite authors, Annie Dillard, and I found this excerpt I want to share with you in regards to the creativity of God:

Along with intricacy, there is another aspect of the creation that has impressed me in the course of my wanderings.  Look again at the horsehair worm, a yard long and thin as a thread, whipping through the duck pond, or tangled with others of its kind in a slithering Gordian knot.  Look at an overwintering ball of buzzing bees, or a turtle under ice breathing through its pumping cloaca.  Look at the fruit of the Osage orange tree, big as a grapefruit, green, convoluted as any human brain.  Or look at a rotifer’s translucent gut: something orange and powerful is surging up and down like a piston, and something small and round is spinning in place like a flywheel.  Look, in short, at practically anything – the coot’s feet, the mantis’s face, a banana, the human ear – and see that not only did the creator create everything, but that he is apt to create anything.  He’ll stop at nothing.

There is no one standing [there] with a blue pencil to say, “Now that one, there, is absolutely ridiculous, and I won’t have it.”

The world is full of creatures that for some reason some stranger to us than others, and libraries are full of books describing them – hagfish, platypuses, lizardlike pangolins four feet long with bright green, lapped scares like umbrella-tree leaves on a bush hut roof, butterflies emerging from anthills, spiderlings wafting through the air clutching tiny silken balloons, horseshoe crabs…the creator creates…he creates everything and anything.

Of all known forms of life, only about 10% are still living today.  All other forms – fantastic plants, ordinary plants, living animals with unimaginable various wings, tails, teeth, brains – are utterly and forever gone.  That is a great many forms that have been created.  Multiplying ten times the number of living forms today yields a profusion that is quiet beyond what I consider thinkable.  Why so many forms?   Why not just that one hydrogen atom?  The creator goes off on one wild, specific tangent after another, or millions simultaneously, with an exuberance that would seem to be unwarranted, and with an abandoned energy sprung from an unfathomable font.  What is going on here?  The point of the dragonfly’s terrible lip, the giant water bug, birdsong, or the beautiful dazzle and flash of sunlighted minnows, is not that it all fits together like clockwork – for it doesn’t, particularly… but that it all flows so freely wild, like the creek, that it all surges in such a free, fringed tangle.  Freedom is the world’s water and weather, the world’s nourishment freely given, its soil and sap: and the creator loves pizzazz.

Now I’ll be honest and say I’m having to Google many of these things to find out what they are, but the last sentence is what absolutely overwhelms me: “The creator loves pizzazz.”  Look around you, even right now.  Look at the creativity of the people sitting next to you, and you’ll realize the truth of that statement.  We don’t need to go out to the river, to the top of the mountain, or into outer space to realize God’s creativity.

Paul wrote, “But the basic reality of God is plain enough.  Open your eyes and there it is!  By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being.” (Rom 1:20)  We can see God through his work all around us, yet too often our eyes are darkened and our sight is distracted so that we miss him.  We need to re-focus ourselves so that we can see as he wants us to see.  And then we will respond to him.

And responding gets us right back to worshipping.

Receiving and Giving Gifts (Issue 2.12)

Originally Written for 12/13/09

Christmas is a time that is too often spent trying to find the perfect gift for that special person, or fretting over whether the one we’ve found is the right one.  We give because of our love, and because God gave to us.

But I was reminded today that the real message of Christmas is not that we give, but that we can receive the greatest gift of all.  It is a reminder that we are finite and, ultimately, there is nothing we can give that will ever get us into Heaven.  Christmas is a reminder of how essential it is for us receive.

Read this quote I came across earlier:

“Rabbi Michael Goldber, in his book Jews and Christians, says that as a Jew he is impressed in reading Matthew’s account of the nativity by how utterly passive the actors are.  As a Jew, he answers to the story of the Exodus, a story  of how God liberated the chosen people through the enlistment and prodding of people like Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.  But the Christmas story implies that what God wants to do for us is so strange, so beyond the bounds of human effort and striving, that God must resort to utterly unnatural, supernatural means.  It tells of an unimaginable gift from a stranger, a God whom we hardly even know.”

When I read that it caused me to pause and reflect – in fact, I’ve been reflecting on it for quite some time.

Christmas, like worship, all to often focuses on what we should do – what we have to offer (even our songs this morning spoke of this – bringing an “offering”).  Yet the truth about Christmas (and of worship) is that our job is to respond to what God has already done.  I’m not suggesting at all that we shouldn’t give gifts to others or to Christ, but we must constantly remember that the reason we give is as a response to what we have received.  John writes, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son…”  (1 John 4:10)  Paul writes, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).

Our job is to respond to that love.  The first step in our response is to receive.

Let’s reflect a little over the coming days on how well we receive the gift God has sent us.