To Seek and to Save: Daily Reflections on the Road to the Cross by Sinclair Ferguson. The Good Book Company. 162 pages. 2020
This book, by one of our most respected theologians, will remind readers of his excellent 2018 Advent devotional Love Came Down at Christmas: Daily Readings for Advent. In that book, the author took readers through 1 Corinthians 13. In this new book, he takes us through Luke’s Gospel, beginning with chapter 9, verse 51, in which Luke records all the events in Jesus’ life in the form of a journey to Jerusalem. This travelogue eventually brings us to Calvary and to the empty tomb. In his travelogue, Luke describes Jesus’ encounters with a wide variety of individuals and groups of people. The author tells us that there was something they all had in common: they were either drawn to him in their need, or repelled from him by their pride. No one was neutral.
In this series of short reflections for Lent, the author lets us listen in on most of these conversations. Each encounter will build up a picture of the journey’s real purpose; for, as he tells one man he meets along the way, Jesus is “the Son of Man [who] came to seek and to save the lost” (19:10). The key issues for all of those who encounter Jesus in Luke’s Gospel are these:
- Do they know why he is on the road in the first place?
- Will they follow him as his disciple?
The author tells us that this Lent, Jesus asks those same questions of us.
These readings will fit nicely in with your daily devotional readings. They will be equally helpful in preparing your heart for the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, or really at any other time. If you choose to use it for the former, you will start the readings on “Ash Wednesday”, which falls on February 26 in 2020. After each reading is a “Reflect” section with questions, and a time to “Respond” to what you have read.
I recommend this book for your personal or family devotional reading.
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The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love & Learning, Worship and Work by Steven Garber. IVP Books. 136 Pages. 2020
Steven Garber was the speaker at my 2014 Covenant Seminary graduation ceremony. After that, my wife and I read and discussed his excellent book Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good. This book also addresses the subject of vocation, which is also a passion of mine. The new book is comprised of short essays, each beginning with a photograph the author has taken related to the essay. The author tells us that this book is deeper than Visions of Vocation, and a deeper reflection on one question: “What does it mean to see seamlessly?”
Living a seamless, or coherent life, and vocation are key themes in this book, which is written so well. I often read the book over a cup of coffee sitting by the fireplace. The author addresses subjects as diverse as Bono (U2), his work with a variety of organizations such as Mars, Elevation Burger and the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation, friendship, movies such as The Reverent and Unbroken, books such as The Hobbit, and a number of places he has lived in or visited.
I would recommend reading this short book slowly, savoring it. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:
- To see the whole of life as important to God, to us, and to the world—the deepest and truest meaning of vocation—is to understand that our longing for coherence is born of our truest humanity, a calling into the reality that being human and being holy are one and the same life.
- But what if justice and mercy, honesty and integrity, truthfulness from beginning to end were the contours of our lives and labors? What if we decided that good business necessarily requires a more complex bottom line, a rethinking of the very purposes of business? What if doing well and doing good were a seamless reality? What if personal convictions were integrally woven into public practices?
- We yearn for things to be made right, for life to be as it could be, as it might be, as it should be—as it is supposed to be.
- Visions of vocation have to become flesh. They have to be worked out and lived into among friends, in neighborhoods, in small towns and big cities,
- The words vocation and occupation more often than not thread their way through my conversations, and I do my best to make clear that there is a difference and why the difference is important. The one is a word about the deepest things, the longest truths about each of us: what we care about, what motivates us, why we get up in the morning. The other is a word about what we do day by day, occupying particular responsibilities and relationships along the way as we live into our vocations. They aren’t the same word, and understanding that matters.
- Created to work, we are to find meaning in our work. But also, we are able to distort the meaning of our work, imagining that our work means more or less than it ought. Getting it right matters because work matters.
- The most interesting questions, the most important questions always are: Who or what is our reason for being? Why do we do the things we do? What does it all mean?
- Our vocations grow out of our beliefs about the way things are, about what matters and what doesn’t matter.
- Because vocation is a rich and complex word and is never the same word as occupation, we are always more than our work, though our work matters.
- Sometimes, sometimes, heaven meets earth in and through our work, and it becomes almost sacramental—and then sometimes we curse the very work of work. We are our best and our worst at work.
- Vocation is the longer, deeper story of someone’s life, our longings and our choices and our passions that run through life like a deep river; occupation is what we do day by day, the relationships and responsibilities we occupy along the way of our lives, more like the currents in a river that give it visible form.
- Most of the time getting a job isn’t so hard, but seeing our lives as a vocation is harder.
- We long for what we do to grow out of who we are, for our occupation(s) to be rooted in our vocation. That is the hope of everyone’s heart.
- We keep stumbling, longing for more coherent lives, where what we confess to believe looks like the way we actually live, where our deepest hearts are seamlessly worked out in the responsibilities and relationships of our lives.
- Vocations are not occupations, though they are integrally woven together. To know the difference and the difference it makes is critical, and much of the grief we experience is born of mistaking one for the other.
- This is what vocation is for everyone everywhere, a calling to care about the way the world is—even dreaming dreams about what might be—and working through the days of our lives at what could and even should be.
- We are disposed to dualism, to carving up our consciences to allow us to believe one thing and behave as if another thing is true.
- Grace, always amazing, slowly, slowly makes its way in and through us, giving us eyes to see that a good life is one marked by the holy coherence between what we believe and how we live, personally and publicly—in our worship as well as our work—where our vision of vocation threads its way through all that we think and say and do.
- Life is meant to be coherent—but we don’t experience it that way.
- People who like being married, who over time find honest happiness in marriage are most of all friends—good friends, true and trusted friends.
- Over time, marriage is not a long date. Instead it is a long friendship, a dear and unique friendship, a completely unique friendship.
The Missionary Fellowship of William Carey by Michael A.G. Haykin. Reformation Trust Publishing. 157 pages. 2018
In the latest book in the Long Line of Godly Men series, Michael Haykin profiles William Carey, known as the founder of modern missions. He writes that the goal of the book is to display the way that friendship was central to Carey’s life.
Carey was born to poor parents in 1761 in a tiny village called Paulerspury in the county of Northamptonshire, England. In 1781, he was among the founders of what would eventually become Hackleton Baptist Church. Shortly after this, he married Dorothy Plackett, a marriage that was to end sadly.
He writes about the friendship of Andrew Fuller, whose friendship was particularly important to Carey: Fuller was his chief supporter in England, and Fuller’s theology lay at the heart of Carey’s missionary vision. Carey had been helped in his early Christian life by the friendship of strong Christians including John Warr, Thomas Chater, and Thomas Scott. Carey’s relationships with these men were relatively short lived, but by his own testimony, the impact they had on him was long lasting.
In 1786, Carey was formally ordained to the ministry of the gospel, and accepted his first pastorate at Baptist church in Moulton. Ryland, Fuller and Sutcliff were pillars of the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS) that sent Carey to India. Hyper-Calvinism was a major challenge with which Carey and his circle of Baptist friends had to contend. Carey was a Calvinist, an evangelical one, similar to John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. The author tells us that without understanding Carey’s consistent delight in Calvinism throughout his life, we cannot understand the man, his motivation, or eventually the shape of his mission.
Between 1783 and 1789, Carey made three significant friendships. First, with John Sutcliff, who was his pastor for a period of time during these years. Second, with Andrew Fuller, who may well have been his closest friend in the years that followed. Third, with John Ryland Jr., who baptized him as a believer. These friendships helped Carey mature as a Christian and brought to bear on his life a treasured tradition of Christian literature, especially the writings of Jonathan Edwards. When Carey sailed to India, among the few books he took with him was a volume of Edwards’ sermons.
The author writes about key steps in Carey’s path to mission in India: two sermons from Sutcliff and Fuller, as well as Carey’s 1792 tract An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians, to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. Carey would provide leadership for what was an unprecedented step among Calvinistic Baptists—the formation of a missionary society, which would become known as the Baptist Missionary Society.
The story of Carey’s wife Dorothy is certainly a sad one. She was initially unwilling to go to India. Once in India, Dorothy began to lose her grip on reality when one of their sons died. Over the next few years, Dorothy reached the point where she was completely delusional. She would die shortly after giving birth to a daughter who would live less than a month. After Dorothy’s death in 1807, Carey married two more times. In 1808 he married a Danish Christian, Charlotte Rumohr. Charlotte was extremely frail, however, and died in 1821. A year later, Carey married Grace Hughes who cared for the aged missionary in his final days.
Carey spent five years in the remote village of Mudnabati, a time of isolation and great trial. During the lonely days in Mudnabati, Carey drew solace from the letters that came from his friends, most of whom were in England. These letters usually took at least six months to reach India, but were received with much joy, none more so than the letters from Samuel Pearce. In the midst of Carey’s discouragements, Pearce sought, by means of his letters, to shine a ray of hope and light.
In late 1799, Carey moved with his family to Serampore, a Danish colony about a dozen miles from Calcutta. There he linked up with two new missionary friends who had recently arrived from England. The first, William Ward, was a printer, who would become the best preacher at Serampore. The second, Joshua Marshman, would assume the role of apologist for the mission. The Serampore Mission was based around the partnership of these three men, a partnership that the author writes has few parallels in Christian history.
Carey’s principal contribution to the Serampore Mission was through his remarkable linguistic ability. His deep conviction was that the Word of God had to be available to the various peoples that he was trying to reach. By the time he moved to Serampore, Carey had acquired an extensive knowledge of both Bengali and Sanskrit. The Bengali New Testament was published by 1801. In 1808, the New Testament in Sanskrit was published. Carey believed that a translation should be geared as much as possible to the grammatical structure and wording of the original Hebrew or Greek. Unfortunately, because of this belief however, his translations failed to make the Scriptures effectively communicate in the living language of the people of India.
The author writes of the many conversions at the mission at Serampore, including the first convert, Krishna Pal, who would go on to be one of the finest preachers of the Serampore Mission.
During the entire time that Carey was in India, from 1793 till his death over forty years later, he regularly pleaded with God in prayer for the destruction of slavery. The slaves were finally freed in 1833. He also began a garden and started researching ways to improve the agricultural lot of Bengali farmers, which would eventually result in Carey’s becoming a leader in agricultural reform.
Carey gave explicit instructions that apart from his date of birth and death, nothing was to be inscribed upon his tombstone but these words from a hymn of Isaac Watts: “A wretched, poor, and helpless worm, On Thy kind arms I fall.”
- Free Audiobook from Christianaudio for February. The free audiobook download from Christianaudio for February is The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning.
- New and Notable Christian Books. Tim Challies shares information about these new books, including one by Sinclair Ferguson.
- My Book Reviews on Good Reads. Check out more than 280 of my book reviews posted on Good Reads.
- 20 Books I’m Anticipating in 2020. Ivan Mesa shares a list of upcoming books he is looking forward to.
- Book Briefs: February. Kevin DeYoung shares some of the books he’s been reading thus far in 2020.
BOOK CLUB – Won’t you read along with us?
We are reading through John MacArthur’s classic book The Gospel According to Jesus. What did Jesus mean when He said, “Follow me”? MacArthur tackled that seemingly simple question and provided the evangelical world with the biblical answer. For many, the reality of Jesus’ demands has proved thoroughly searching, profoundly disturbing, and uncomfortably invasive; and yet, heeding His words is eternally rewarding. The 20th anniversary edition of the book has revised and expanded the original version to handle contemporary challenges. The debate over what some have called “lordship salvation” hasn’t ended—every generation must face the demands Christ’s lordship. Will you read along with us?
This week we look at Chapter 5: “He Receives Sinners but Refuses the Righteous”. Here are a few takeaways from the chapter:
- One of the most malignant by-products of the debacle in contemporary evangelism is a gospel that fails to confront individuals with the reality of their sin.
- Multitudes declare that they trust Christ as Savior while indulging in lifestyles that are plainly inconsistent with God’s Word — yet no one dares to challenge their testimony.
- Any message that fails to define and confront the severity of personal sin is a deficient gospel.
- Sin is no peripheral issue as far as salvation is concerned; it is the issue.
- This is the theme of the gospel according to Jesus: He came to call sinners to repentance.
- Those who think they are good enough — those who do not understand the seriousness of sin — cannot respond to the gospel. They cannot be saved, for the gospel is a call to sinners to repent and be forgiven.
- The gospel according to Jesus is first of all a mandate for repentance.
- The truth of the gospel according to Jesus is that the only ones who are eligible for salvation are those who realize they are sinners and are willing to repent.