Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

Theology and Misc. Book Reviews

MARTYN LL0YD-JONES BOOK REVIEWS

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES BOOK REVIEWS

JERRY BRIDGES

JERRY BRIDGES BOOK REVIEWS

JOHN PIPER

JOHN PIPER BOOK REVIEWS

MICHAEL CARD

MICHAEL CARD BOOK REVIEWS

R. C. SPROUL

R. C. SPROUL BOOK REVIEWS

SINCLAIR FERGUSON

TIM KELLER

A Time for Confidence: Trusting God in a Post-Christian Society by Stephen J. Nichols. Reformation Trust Publishing. 164 pages. 2017
****

I have to admit, it’s easy to get discouraged these days when we see where our culture is going on issues such as marriage, gender and life (abortion). Stephen Nichols writes that we need vision in this time of change. The pressure is on dissenters from the culture shift. The author states that in this time of tolerance and pluralism, when the Bible is seen as irrelevant compared with cultural trends, it is not a time for Christians to cower, cave or capitulate.
Nichols writes that today truth is seen as elastic. You share your own reality. Truth about marriage, gender and life is whatever you shape it to be.  How are Christians to respond in such times? Our confidence must be in God.
The author states that the emphasis of the book can be found in Martin Luther’s great hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”, based on Psalm 46.  God saves us, helps us and keeps us. Our strength and confidence is in God, not us.  God delights to demonstrate His power in the lives of His people.  We miss out when we fail to put our confidence in God.
Throughout the book the author helpfully uses Scripture (Isaiah, Genesis, etc.) to illustrate his points, as well as writings from church history, including Calvin, Luther and Edwards.  He asks the reader ‘in our current culture, will our authority continue to be in the Word in God?’ There certainly is an assault on the authority of the Bible today.
He tells us that we must reaffirm, not rethink, the Bible.  We must take a stand.  We can stand firm in Christ and the Gospel.  Our time is not a time for retreat, but advance.  Being “in Christ” is our identity. We share in his sufferings; Our weakness is made perfect. In Christ, we can be confident.  He writes that as King, Christ reigns and rules over all things. This is our basis for confidence.
We can also be confident in the Gospel. Do we believe in the power of the Gospel? Paul and Peter did. The Gospel will succeed over all odds and opposition.
Nichols writes that we are children of God. We are adopted. We have confidence in who we are and who we will be. We can endure hardships because we know the end of the story. Now is a time for conviction and a time for confidence.
I was encouraged in reading this small book. Even in a culture that increasingly is at odds with Christianity, we can be confident in the Bible, in Christ and in the Gospel.

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. IVP Books. 241 pages. 2016
****

I’m a big proponent of personality assessments, and have utilized several in the workplace, such as Myers-Briggs, Strengthsfinder and StandOut. I always find out more about myself and others through these tools. While many in my church have been proponents of the Enneagram for years, I really didn’t know anything about it. I found this book to be an excellent introduction to the Enneagram.
The authors of this book provide a brief history of the Enneagram, which some believe dates back to the 4th century. Among other callings, Ian Morgan Cron is an Enneagram teacher. Some of the material in the book comes from the lectures of co-author Suzanne Stabile, a master teacher of the Enneagram.
The Enneagram includes nine personality types or numbers that are grouped into three triads (anger, feeling, fear). Each type has a dynamic relationship with four other types, touching the two on either side (wing numbers), as well as two on other side of arrows.
Each type has one of the seven deadly sins attached to it. No types are better than any other. All have strengths and weaknesses. Your curse is the flipside of your blessing. For each type, your gift is also your curse. Your number is not what you do, but why you do it. The Enneagram takes into account the fluid nature of our personality. It is intended to help us on the journey back to our true selves.
The book covers each of the types, not in numerical order, but within its triad. As each type is covered, healthy and unhealthy examples of that type are given. Challenges for that type are given, as well as the go-to emotion for the type, and what the type looked like as a child. They also look at the type in relationships and at work, and address how each type handles stress and security. We are told how the “wing numbers” impact each type, and that each type has a signature communication style. For each type, examples from history are listed. The Enneagram takes into account the fluid nature of our personality. It is intended to help us on the journey back to our true selves.
As I heard about each type, I tried to figure out which one I was, as well as friends, family and colleagues at work. I tested as a “3 – The Performer”. The authors state that America is a country of “3’s”. They tell us to look for the type that describes who you currently are, not what you want to be.
I enjoyed sharing information about the book and the Enneagram test with team members at work and my family. We plan to do a debrief as a family on our upcoming vacation.
The book includes helpful stories that illustrate the points. A helpful “Spiritual Transformation” section is included at the end of each chapter.
For more information about the book, check out its official site, and their podcast, which is available on iTunes.

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke. 224 pages. Crossway. 2017
****

Look around, and many of the people you see will be looking down at their smartphone. It is amazing how smartphones have transformed our culture. This well-researched book by Tony Reinke is both an important one and a timely one.
More than a billion iPhones have been sold since Apple introduced it in 2007. Smartphones are now omnipresent. Amazingly, people check their smartphones about every four minutes they are awake.
The author looks at the positives (all the things they can do for us), and negatives (distractions, easier access to sexual sin, for example) of smartphones. The book is neither pro-smartphone, nor anti-smart phone. He encourages us to consider what impact the smartphone has had on our spiritual lives. He states that we might not know what our smartphones are doing to us, but we are being changed. He looks at the question of what is the best use of our smartphones in the flourishing of our life. The book is more diagnostic and worldview than it is application. The author states that the book will succeed only if we enjoy Christ more.
The author tells us that to look at our smartphone history is like piercing into our souls. Our smartphone habits expose our hearts.
He looks at a history of technology and offers a theology of technology. He shares that those addicted to smartphones are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety and have a harder time concentrating at work and sleeping. He looks at the spiritual dimensions and consequences of our digital addiction and distractions. For example, when texting while driving, we are twenty-seven times more likely to have an accident. He addresses topics such as online anger, approval addiction (likes, shares, followers) and the impact smartphones have had on our reading of books, including the Bible. Other topics he looks at are identity and idolatry (do we worship our smartphones, our online presence?), isolation, slander, and the fear of missing out or being left out.
Throughout the book he asks helpful questions such as whether our texts and tweets are pushing people toward Heaven or Hell. He writes that the words we consume transform us, and that we will all be held accountable for our words. He encourages us not to kill time on our smartphones but instead to redeem the time. The question should not be what we can do with our smartphone, but what should we do.
Near the end of the book he offers some practical applications on how to be smartphone “smart”.

Freedom Movement: 500 Years of Reformation by Michael Reeves. 10Publishing. 40 pages. 2017
****

A few years ago I wasn’t aware of the ministry of Michael Reeves. After seeing him speak at a theology conference I regularly attend the past two years, now anytime I see his name associated with something it gets my attention. This short book is no exception. It was written to help us celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017.
The book is creatively put together, with side bar articles (Luther at home, Bunyan and Pilgrim’s Progress, the deaths of martyrs), art work, quotes, song lyrics, differing style fonts and colors.
In its short 40 pages (Reeves has written elsewhere extensively on the Reformation), you get an overview of the Reformation that started when Martin Luther, a monk, was struggling to understand what the apostle Paul meant in Romans 1:17. This would lead to Luther being born again, as he understood the “Great Exchange”, where on the cross Jesus, who wasn’t guilty, took and faced God’s punishment for our guilt, so that we could be forgiven. Luther came across something that people had not heard about, that sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive. This would lead to the Reformation, which Reeves writes, would transform millions of lives and change the world. Included in the Reformation was the translation of the Bible into the languages of the people by Luther and Tyndale. In addition, Luther encouraged believers to not retreat to monasteries, but to go out into the world to love and serve others.
This book takes just a few minutes to read and is certainly time well spent. Buy extra copies and share the message of the Reformation with others.

Learning to Love the Psalms by Robert Godfrey. Reformation Trust Publishing. 263 pages. 2017
****

The author, a respected seminary president and professor, mentions that over the past several years the Psalms have been his favorite book of the Bible. He begins the book by looking at the attractiveness of the Psalms and asks why the book of Psalms is not more important to Christians today. He states that the aim of the book is to help the reader understand and appreciate the Psalms at a new level.
He tells us that John Calvin believed that singing in worship should include only the words found in the Bible. Calvin was responsible for versifying the Psalms, and stated that the Psalms were an anatomy of all the parts of the soul.
The author states that the main theme of the Psalms is God’s goodness and unfailing love for the righteous. There are also multiple subordinate themes of the Psalms that he identifies. They are:

-The sinfulness of the righteous
-The mysteries of providence in the success of the wicked
-The mysteries of providence in the suffering of the righteous
-Confidence in God and the future despite difficulties

The author tells us that keeping these themes in mind will help the reader see the basic message of the Psalms more clearly.
We are told that many (73) of the Psalms are specifically credited to David. The Psalms are from the perspective of the King. The New Testament quotes the Psalms 376 times from 115 different Psalms. The author writes that Jesus “fills and fulfills” the Psalms, and that he loved the Psalms.
The author tells us that we need to understand the forms of Hebrew poetry. He mentions the groups, or groupings, of Psalms. There are five sections to the book of Psalms. For each he devotes seven chapters in this book. Each chapter includes an introduction, and then he looks at six or more psalms from that section in detail. He also gives us ten good questions to ask of each psalm.
The book includes helpful questions for reflection and discussion at the end of each chapter. I really enjoyed this excellent book, and I think anyone who would like to learn more about the book of Psalms will as well.

The Gospel According to Paul: Embracing the Good News at the Heart of Paul’s Teachings by John MacArthur. Thomas Nelson. 256 pages. 2017
****

I can’t think of anyone else that I would rather have write on the Gospel than John MacArthur. The 77-year-old pastor has faithfully served his church for more than 48 years. This is his third book in his The Gospel According To series, with previous books from the perspectives of Jesus and the Apostles.
The author writes that Paul was unlike any of the other apostles with his intelligence and academic credentials. Paul wrote more New Testament books than any other author. He consistently explained and defended the Gospel in his writings.
The author states that next to Jesus, Paul is the model for his pastoral ministry. Paul encourages us to imitate him and he imitated Christ.
The author reviews attacks on the Gospel (lordship salvation, etc.) he has addressed in some of his previous books. This book looks at the Gospel as Paul proclaims it in his writings; it also includes four appendices.
The author writes that the Gospel is under attack in our culture. It is also very much misunderstood by many. Most, if not all other religions besides Christianity, are works-based. They are about what we need to do. On the other hand, the Gospel is what God has already done for sinners. The Gospel is good news for sinners who can’t save themselves. But we first have to recognize that we are sinners and the helpless state of fallen humanity.
Paul has written that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. He also wrote that no one seeks after God. Yet many churches continue to design their worship experiences for the “seeker”.
Given sin, how can a man be made right with God? The author states that the Gospel is the answer to that question.
The author goes over Paul’s writing on justification by faith alone (Sola Fide), and that Christians are justified by grace through faith. Justification is a gift. Grace is why the Gospel is such good news.
The author discusses penal substitutionary atonement, which some liberal theologians find abhorrent. He writes about the Great Exchange (2 Corinthians 5:21) and the offense of the cross.
The author writes about the sovereignty of God in salvation, and that our salvation is entirely God’s work. Christ’s righteousness is imputed to sinners. Christ is our perfect substitute.
He also writes about such weighty topics as election, legalism and antinomianism in a manner that laypeople can easily understand them.
Highly recommended!

The Legacy of Luther, edited by R. C. Sproul and Stephen J. Nichols. Reformation Trust Publishing. 303 pages. 2016
****

This is a wonderful volume to read as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of the Ninety-Five Theses (which are included in an appendix) to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, initiating the Protestant Reformation. This anthology of essays honoring Luther from some of the most respected Reformed theologians today looks at several aspects of the life, ministry and legacy of the great reformer.
This in-depth volume includes a Foreword by John MacArthur and chapters by respected pastors and theologians such as Sinclair Ferguson, Steven Lawson, David Calhoun (who I enjoyed two church history courses at Covenant Seminary with), Michael Horton, Robert Godfrey, Gene Veith, Derek Thomas and many others. These essays cover a wide variety of aspects of Luther’s life and ministry, including his life at home, his music, his doctrine of scripture, the doctrine of justification by faith alone, his doctrine of vocation, as a man of conflict, his later years, as a preacher, on the sacraments, and a final reflection from R.C. Sproul on Luther and the life of the pastor-theologian.
The legacy of Martin Luther is vast and varied, and this book offers an attempt to summarize that legacy. The book is written for, and can be enjoyed by, both those who have little knowledge of Luther, and also for those who know him well. The book is organized into three sections – Luther’s Life, Luther’s Thought and Luther’s Legacy.
I highly recommend this book as a way to get to know Luther – warts and all – as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Reading Romans with Luther by R.J. Grunewald. Concordia Publishing. 136 pages. 2017
***

I was interested in reading this short book for several reasons. First, I enjoy reading books about the great Protestant Reformer Martin Luther, especially during this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Second, Romans is my favorite book of the Bible, and it is also where I was in my reading through the Bible at the time this book was published. Third, I have enjoyed the author’s blog and looked forward to reading a book by him.
The author, a Lutheran pastor, states that the book is meant to introduce the reader to the work of Martin Luther, to explain his words in a way that removes some of the intimidation. He realizes that Luther’s works can be intimidating, and this book is meant to take some of that intimidation away and guide the reader into Luther’s works. The author wants you to look at this book as Luther for everyday life.
The book does not contain Luther’s entire commentary on Romans, but only pertinent paragraphs that go along with the themes outlined in the table of contents. Rather than providing a linear exploration of Luther’s commentary, the author has divided and rearranged it according to thematic teachings in Romans.
He has also included the Scripture passages that Luther references within the text and divided it with headings and chapters to allow the reader to find the topics and sections easily.
A special feature of this book is the artwork that accompanies the text to reflect the beauty of Luther’s theology and writing. The author intends that the reader will pause and reflect on the phrases that are called out with artwork.
The author has provided his own commentary to show how Luther’s writings apply to our lives today. Unfortunately, in the Kindle edition of the book the author’s words and Luther’s words were not clearly differentiated. In most instances I could not clearly tell whether it was the author’s or Luther’s words I was reading. I’m assuming that is not the case in the print edition of the book. However, I have to lower my review of the book by one star because of my experience reading the Kindle edition.
The author includes a helpful Appendix for preachers.
Highly recommended, but not in the Kindle edition.

Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves. IVP Academic. 135 pages. 2012
****  

I was introduced to the author at the 2016 Ligonier National Conference, and then again at the 2017 Conference. He writes that this book will be about growing in our enjoyment of God and seeing how God’s triune Being makes all His ways beautiful.  He tells us that it is only when we grasp what it means for God to be a Trinity that we really sense the beauty, the overflowing kindness, the heart-grabbing loveliness of God.
He writes that Christianity is not primarily about lifestyle change; it is about knowing God. To know and grow to enjoy Him is what we are saved for.  He tells us that the triune nature of God affects everything from how we listen to music to how we pray: it makes for happier marriages, warmer dealings with others, better church life; it gives Christians assurance, shapes holiness and transforms the very way we look at the world around us.
He writes that the word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible. But he aims to show us in this wonderful book that through and through, the Trinity is a scriptural truth. He does this in a very readable manner, including helpful sidebar articles and artwork, taking us through meditations on the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He tells us that with our God, we are dealing with three real and distinct persons, the Father, the Son and the Spirit.
He writes that the Father is who He is by virtue of his relationship with the Son, and that the Son would not be the Son without his Father. He has His very being from the Father.  He tells us further that the Father, Son and Spirit, while distinct persons, are absolutely inseparable from each other.
Why is it important that we understand the Trinity? Reeves writes, “What is your Christian life like? What is the shape of your gospel, your faith? In the end, it will all depend on what you think God is like. Who God is drives everything.”
Studying the Trinity can be difficult. Reeves gives us an excellent introduction to the subject. Highly recommended!

Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed Through the Stories Jesus Told by John MacArthur. Thomas Nelson. 288 pages. 2015
****

Previously, the only book that I had read on the parables was in seminary when I read Craig Blomberg’s book Interpreting the Parables. In the latest book from John MacArthur, MacArthur teaches the reader about the parables of Jesus, “the master storyteller”, who used parables to reveal the Kingdom of God to those who had ears to hear.  He begins with background information about the biblical genre of parables. He states that the method and message of Jesus’ parables are often misunderstood. He writes that in every parable there is a central lesson. They are not open to endless interpretations.  In the Appendix of the book he writes about the importance of propositional statements and that truth is objective.
Parables illustrate a truth for those with ears to hear, while at the same time hiding the truth from those who didn’t believe.  This goes against the perhaps common notion that Jesus used parables to make his teaching easy for all.
He writes that faith, prompted and enabled by the Holy Spirit, is the pre-requisite for understanding parables.  A parable uses illustration and comparison to teach a spiritual lesson. Jesus’ parables were illustrative of gospel facts. MacArthur states that a parable is an “ingeniously simple word picture illuminating a profound spiritual lesson.
He tells us that today, some believe that sermons should be comprised only of stories, rather than doctrine.  MacArthur very much disagrees with this approach.   He also tells us not to mingle/mix details of the various parables, though some of the stories might have some similarities.
There came a point in Jesus’ second year of ministry in which he began teaching in parables when confronted by the Pharisees about the Sabbath.  This book looks at a dozen of the most notable parables by Jesus, of the approximate 40 (some estimates are different) he taught. The book does not cover the parable of the prodigal son, as he had written a complete book on that one – A Tale of Two Sons – perhaps my favorite book by MacArthur.
Each chapter of the book looks at a theme of Jesus’ parables and the parable that goes with that theme. MacArthur looks at these dozen parables in detail, looking at the context in which it was delivered and what truth it taught about God and his kingdom.
This is a serious book about serious teaching of our Lord. One of MacArthur’s gifts is to be able to communicate in such a manner that the layperson can understand and benefit from. This book is no exception.

Heaven, How I Got Here: The Story of the Thief on the Cross by Colin S. Smith. Christian Focus Publications. 96 pages. 2015   
****

Scripture doesn’t tell us a great deal about the repentant thief on the cross. In this creative telling of the gospel message from the perspective of the thief, Colin Smith speculates about his life up to his final day on earth.
The thief tells us that how he got to Heaven is still amazing to him, but he is telling his story so that we can share the joys he has found.  He tells us that as he looks back on what happened on his final day on earth he can now see so much more than he was able to grasp at the time, and the more he discovers, the more staggering and wonderful the whole story becomes.
As he recounts his day it begins at 6:00 am when he awoke in his cell knowing what awaited him that day – torture, humiliation and a long, slow descent into death on a cross. He intersperses the story of his life, indicating that his story began in an ordinary home. He tells us that he had accepted what his mother taught him about God until his early teens, when he began to have questions about God and about authority in general. He tells us that after years of stealing, lying and taking advantage of others, the consequences of his lifestyle finally caught up with him, and led him to the cell where he began the last day of his life.
The thief takes us throughout his last day as he prepared for crucifixion and the excruciating pain he suffered. Shortly before noon he writes that a strange stillness came over his soul, and for the first time, he began to consider what lay ahead. That leads him to believe in Jesus and he asks him to save him. Jesus tells him “I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The thief tells us that we can take it from him – a believer passes immediately from the end of his life on earth to the beginning of his life in heaven. There is no waiting. There are no delays. You will not be investigated outside the pearly gates. To be away from your body is to be at home with the Lord.
Through the words of the thief, the author communicates the basics of the gospel message. Heaven does not depend on what you do for Christ but on what He has done for you. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
The thief’s story proves that getting into heaven depends on Jesus, and on Jesus alone. It’s Jesus who gets you in. He opens the door for people who believe His Word and entrust themselves to Him.
He tells us that we shouldn’t expect it to be easy. Our faith will be tested, as his was. You may experience days of great darkness. You may go through times when you feel that God is far from you. You may experience great pain in your body, as he did, or great pain in your soul. But His presence is with you and the strength He gives will get you through.
The book ends with a brief Q&A with the author who tells us that the inspiration for the book is there is hope for every person in Jesus Christ. That’s what we learn from the thief. Amen and Amen!

None Other: Discovering the God of the Bible by John MacArthur. Reformation Trust. 123 pages. 2017
****

In this short book, respected pastor and author John MacArthur aims to get beyond the mere facts of who God is and help the reader to develop an understanding of His character. He wants us to not just know about God, but to know Him. Among the many important topics he briefly covers in this book include election, God’s sovereignty, salvation (justification, sanctification and glorification), imputation, substitution, evil and God’s holiness.
He writes that the truth about election is essential to understanding who God is, His plan of redemption, and His design for the church. We also must hold the doctrine of election with great humility. The ultimate end of election, the ultimate purpose behind God’s grace poured out on us, is the eternal glorification of the Son.
A particularly helpful section is when he looks at God’s sovereignty and human will, an issue that many struggle to understand. He writes that while some see an insurmountable contradiction between divine sovereignty and human responsibility, God’s sovereignty does not nullify our own personal responsibility for the sinful things we do. He writes that the Bible is not concerned with reconciling divine judgment with any human assumptions about justice or fairness. Scripture simply explains what God did, and we are to understand that it was just and fair because He did it. He tells us that God’s sovereignty is a truth that should provoke wonder and worship.
He tells us that salvation is God’s work, but it is nevertheless our duty to believe, and God will hold those who refuse Him responsible for their unbelief. And while the Lord knows whom He chose in eternity past, we do not have insight into His electing work. As a result, we must fervently pursue every sinner while there is still time to repent.
He states that salvation is primarily for the honor of the Son, not the honor of the sinner, and that the purpose of the Father’s love gift is not to save us so we can have a happy life; it is to save us so that we can spend eternity praising the Son. In God’s perfect plan, He sovereignly draws us to Christ. On our own, we would never choose to believe in Christ. But in God’s sovereignty, those He draws will, without fail, believe. He tells us that the Lord’s gracious choice of certain people unto eternal life is just that, His choice. It’s not based on human merit.  God has graciously, lovingly extended the offer of the gospel to all mankind. But that offer won’t last forever.
He writes that if we understand the true nature of sin, righteousness, and judgment, we should realize that it’s no mystery at all why God condemns sinners. The real mystery is why He saves anyone at all.
He writes that the gospel proclaims the way to forgiveness, redemption, a right standing with God, and the gift of eternal life. It is not a guarantee that earthly suffering will be banished from our experience, nor does it promise immediate or automatic healing from every physical affliction.
Don’t underestimate this book due to its small size. There is much gold included.

Gospel Hope for Anxious Hearts: Trading Fear and Worry for the Peace of God by Charles Spurgeon. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 170 pages. 2016. 
****

This is the second book I’ve read from the new Rich Theology Made Accessible series, the first one being on prayer by John Calvin.  The book includes ten wonderful sermons by the great Reformed Baptist Charles Spurgeon, preached from the Metropolitan Tabernacle pulpit in London where he served for 38 years. Among the topics covered in these sermons that will encourage believers are care, anxiety, peace, fear and rest. My only suggestion for improvement would be an Introduction to the book, giving the reader some context to these wonderful sermons – when they were preached, why these particular sermons were chosen, etc. I highly recommend this wonderful collection of sermons by Spurgeon, which are great for devotional reading.

Silence by Shusaku Endo. Picador Modern Classics. 256 pages. Rep Mti edition 2017
***

The new film Silence, from director Martin Scorsese is based on this 1966 novel of historical fiction written by Japanese author Shusaku Endo. Scorsese, who writes the Foreword, had wanted to make a film of this book for many years. In the Foreword he writes about the problem of Judas, a theme that will come up throughout this book.
The novel is primarily written in the form of a journal and also in the third person by its central character, Father Sabastian Rodrigues, a Portuguese missionary. Father Rodrigues and his companion Father Francisco Garrpe arrive in Japan in 1639; the Christian church is underground to avoid persecution. Rodrigues has travelled to Japan to investigate reports that his former teacher and mentor, Christovao Ferreira, has committed apostasy.  The priest had not been heard from since 1633 when he was last seen in Nagasaki.
Their contact in Japan is a drunken man named Kichijiro. He denies when asked if he is a Christian. He is the Judas character in this book. He will show up again and again in the story.  Just when you think you can trust him, he will disappoint you, and then he shows up again. Can he be trusted? Or, will he betray the priests and turn them into the Japanese authorities? The Judas theme is key to this book. Father Rodrigues will often refer to Jesus’ words to Judas, “What thou must, do quickly” (John 13:27).
Father Rodrigues will also compare his situation with that of Jesus. The magistrate, Inoue, who is responsible for the interrogation and torture of all captured Christians, is the Pilate character in the book.
The book includes themes of faith, doubt, silence (of God, the sea, land, night and people), solitude, pain, betrayal, strength, weakness and martyrdom. Does God even exist? He has been silent in the midst of the persecution of the Japanese Christians.
The subject of apostasy is another key to this story. The Japanese not only want the peasant Japanese Christians to deny their faith by trampling on an image of Jesus (referred to as a fumi-e), no, they want priests themselves to commit apostasy. If they don’t, the peasant Christians will be tortured to death.
The book is well-written and very descriptive. You can feel the heat, rain, and the insects that Father Rodrigues encounters in “the swamp”, as Japan is referred to in the book. Tension builds as Father Rodrigues encounters his former teacher Father Ferreira.
SPOILER ALERT!  *** Ferreira has indeed apostatized, taken on a Japanese name, taken on another’s wife and children, and is writing a book to refute the teachings of Christ. He tells Rodrigues that he was to get him to apostatize. He goes on to tell Rodrigues why he had apostatized. ***
We go on to read about what happens to Rodrigues. Will he apostatize? Will he ever hear the voice of God, or will he remain silent?
As I read this book I wondered if I would be able to keep from denying Christ if my wife was being tortured. I pray that I would.

BefriendBefriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear by Scott Sauls. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 240 pages. 2016
****

The theme of grace permeates this book as pastor and author Scott Sauls looks at befriending different groups in this book. As he did in his outstanding first book Jesus Outside the Lines, he hits on many “hot buttons” that are in the news as I read the book, perhaps even more than Scott could have ever imagined. Among the people he asks us to befriend are those who are concerned about women’s rights and the unborn, Syrian refugees (where he talks about sanctuary cities), those who vote against you, those who are of different races from you and sexual minorities (LGBT). In our greatly divided nation, this is an extremely timely and helpful book.
The book is written to help you start to live a more abundant, fruitful life. It contains 20 essays about befriending others. Like his first book and blog, Scott’s writing is honest, transparent and challenging. He consistently pushes me to get out of my comfort zone (which is a good thing). Throughout, he uses helpful stories to illustrate the points he makes in the book.
He begins the book by looking at false friendship – digital, transactional, and one-dimensional.   The 20 essays are about what C.S. Lewis defines as “real friendship”, which is vulnerability; this book is about real friendship. Scott suggests three different ways to read the book:

  • With others in community, with those who are different from you.
  • Read one chapter a day.
  • Read like you would a normal book, which is how I read the book (or more accurately listened to the audiobook which was well narrated by Dean Gallagher).

At the end of each chapter he includes a helpful summary, scripture verse and questions to help you go deeper with content from that chapter.
There is a good chance that you will not agree with Scott’s perspectives on all of the issues covered here, and that’s just fine. He is always challenging, but not in a divisive or disrespectful manner.  Highly recommended.

unlimited grace by bryan chapellUnlimited Grace: The Heart Chemistry That Frees from Sin and Fuels the Christian Life by Bryan Chapell. Crossway. 192 pages. 2016
****

Bryan Chapell, was the President of Covenant Theological Seminary for most of the time I attended the school. He served there for three decades in teaching and administration. He is now the Senior Pastor at Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois, where Tammy and I were married years ago. Unlimited Grace is his latest book and it’s a gem, perhaps my top book of the year, right up there with The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson.

Chapell writes of how he has been on a journey together with the people of Grace Presbyterian Church to discern how the grace of the gospel can transform a church by freeing people from sin and fueling their lives with new hope and joy. He states that this book is an effort both to reflect what they have learned together and to teach the values that he hopes will guide those who join on this gospel endeavor.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part takes the reader on a journey to discover how grace not only frees us from the guilt and shame of sinful lives but also provides daily fuel for the joy that is the strength of Christian living. The second part explains how preachers, teachers, counselors, mentors, parents, and all others who share God’s Word can find grace in every portion of Scripture. And the final part attempts to answer the common questions people ask about how to find grace, and how to keep from abusing its blessings. The author states that the aim of the book is to identify not only how these truths of grace affect our understanding of God’s acceptance at the end of our lives, but also how they empower our efforts to honor God every day of our lives.

Dr. Chapell states that the essence of grace is that God provides for us what we could not provide for ourselves. In this book he addresses many helpful concepts such as legalism, our identity, performance, behavior, holiness and motivation towards obedience, God’s acceptance of us, sin and repentance, the distinction between justification and sanctification, biblical fear of God and His judgement.

It took me longer than usual to read this book because of the number of passages I highlighted. I highly recommend this book. Read it and share the wonderful message of God’s grace with others.

bryan-chapell65 Wonderful Quotes from
Unlimited Grace by Bryan Chapell

  1. New obedience and daily living in harmony with Christ’s standards may enable us to experience God’s forgiveness, but we never earn it.
  2. God’s great grace toward us fosters such love for him that we want to please and honor him. His mercy toward us stirs such overwhelming thanksgiving in us that we desire to live for him. Love compels us.
  3. A Christian for whom love of God is the highest priority is also the person most motivated and enabled to serve the purposes of God.
  4. We will inevitably focus our resources of heart, soul, mind, and strength on what or whom we love the most.
  5. Grace draws the one to whom it is extended closer to the One expressing it.
  6. We are ultimately controlled by whatever we love the most.
  7. Real change—real power over seemingly intractable patterns of sin and selfishness—comes when Christ becomes our preeminent love. When that happens, all that pleases and honors him becomes the source of our deepest pleasure, highest aim, and greatest effort.
  8. When his delight is our greatest joy, we give our lives in fullest measure to his purposes.
  9. Since God is entirely holy, we cannot earn his approval based upon our efforts.
  10. Those who try to make themselves acceptable to God by their own efforts are comparable to someone trying to clean a white shirt with muddy hands.
  11. Because he is just, there’s no double jeopardy or double punishment with God. Once the penalty has been paid, it doesn’t have to be paid again. And because he is gracious, God determined that all who confess that they need and want Jesus’s punishment to serve as a substitute for their own will have no more penalty to pay—now or ever (Heb. 9:22–26).
  12. What happens if we ignore Christ’s provision? Then we will face a judgment day on which people will have to explain why they didn’t believe they needed Jesus. They will have to prove that they are as holy as God requires for an eternity with him.
  13. Grace not only promotes grateful devotion but also derails self-serving pride.
  14. While everyone should be concerned about whether his or her behavior pleases God, the Bible makes it clear that our behavior does not determine his acceptance. His mercy does (Titus 3:4–5).
  15. The reason our good works or intentions are inadequate is not that there is no good in them, but that they are not sufficiently good.
  16. Good behavior doesn’t get you into heaven or out of hell. That’s game changing for people banking on their goodness to get God’s acceptance. But does that mean what we do doesn’t matter to God? No. It means that good behavior has to be motivated by something other than a presumed payment or feared penalty for our performance.
  17. But what else is there to motivate us to good deeds if our relationship with God cannot be purchased by them? The answer is the relationship itself.
  18. Who we are in loving relationship with God is not determined by what we do; rather, what we do is determined by who we are.
  19. God’s grace motivates our behavior; our behavior does not manufacture his grace.
  20. God’s gracious claim on us is our greatest cause for serving him.
  21. What we do must not determine who we are, but who we are by God’s grace should determine what we do.
  22. Grace justifies guilty sinners so that they have Jesus’s guiltless status before God.
  23. Though our sin pollutes us, we are sanctified by God’s grace so that he can use us for his holy purposes.
  24. Because we know that God expects us to make progress in our sanctification—to grow in personal holiness—we can begin to think that our status is determined by our progress. We begin to base our justification (being okay with God) on our progress in sanctification (how we are doing with regard to personal holiness). This line of thought basically leaves us evaluating whether God loves us based on whether we are being good enough to satisfy him.
  25. We must remember that our justification (being okay with God) and applied sanctification (being a pure child of God) are never determined by what we do but, rather, by faith in what Christ has done.
  26. God expects personal works of holiness as a loving response to his grace, but not as a way of gaining it. If we had to earn grace at any time in our Christian lives, it would not be grace.
  27. The heart stirred by God’s justifying and sanctifying grace will long to serve him. In contrast, one who believes that God will love us only when we are good enough may serve him with vigor but will struggle, and almost inevitably fail to love him.
  28. Holy identity comes before holy imperatives. This order never varies in Scripture: imperatives are based on our identity.
  29. Obedience is always a response to God’s grace, and not a way of gaining it.
  30. Our identity determines what we do; what we do does not determine our identity. The imperatives we honor are based on the identity we have, and the order is not reversible. The practical implications of this simple truth will change every relationship of those who determine to live in patterns consistent with the gospel.
  31. Jesus does not love any child (young or old) because the child is good. Jesus loves his children because he is good.
  32. The message that Jesus loves us because we are good denies that the cross was either necessary or sufficient.
  33. Our obedience does not determine who we are. His grace does.
  34. The greatest blessing of the indwelling Christ is our new identity. We are as good as dead in terms of being able to satisfy God by our human efforts. But Jesus is alive in us by his Holy Spirit. So we have his identity.
  35. God will not love me more because I do better. He will not love me less because I stumble. His love is based not on my behavior but on my union with his Son—a union built on trust in his grace, not my goodness. Through that union, I have the identity of Christ and cannot be loved more, because I am already loved as infinitely as he. And because of that union, I will not be loved less, since Christ’s life, not mine, is the basis of God’s love.
  36. The power to obey our Lord requires that we know what honors him. We cannot do our Savior’s will if we do not know what he wants.
  37. The kind of teaching that puts God’s law and his grace in opposition to one another doesn’t actually understand how the Bible’s heart chemistry works. While it is true that our obedience to God’s law is not the basis of his love for us, that does not mean that God’s standards are bad, irrelevant, or to be ignored.
  38. Even if there are no tangible benefits in this life, we obey God because his standards reflect his own righteous and holy character. By living for God in situations where there is no apparent gain for us, we demonstrate our devotion to him.
  39. Our eternal relationship with God is a consequence of trusting in Christ’s death and resurrection—plus nothing.
  40. Duty and doctrine dispensed without grace can create only two possible human responses: pride and despair.
  41. We sin not because we don’t love Christ at all but because we don’t love him above all.
  42. Since the life source of sin is our love for it, we defeat sin when we deprive it of our affection—or displace it with a greater affection.
  43. When our love for Christ is preeminent (first above all things), it drives out love for sin and spurs our devotion to him (Col. 1:18).
  44. If our reason for reading the Bible is so God won’t get mad at us, or will be nice to us, then we are implicitly trying to buy his goodness with ours.
  45. The ultimate purpose of the Christian disciplines is to fill our hearts with love for Christ so that all other loves are displaced and diminished in power.
  46. If we truly love Jesus, we love what and whom he loves.
  47. His grace gets us into his kingdom, maintains us in the kingdom, and secures us for the kingdom.
  48. Every text relates some aspect of God’s redeeming grace that finds its fullest expression in Christ.
  49. The Bible actually seems intent on tarnishing the reputations of almost all its heroes. That’s because we are supposed to recognize there is only one true hero. His name is Jesus.
  50. Teaching people to be like a noble person in the Bible without dependence upon the grace that person needed to be noble only creates pride (in those who think they can) and despair (in those who know they can’t).
  51. Jesus loves us not because we are good but because he is.
  52. To teach that our goodness will get us to God apart from his grace is not simply sub-Christian (saying less than needs to be said); it is actually anti-Christian (teaching what is contrary to the Christian faith).
  53. Striving for godliness in response to God’s grace pleases our Savior. Trying to be good enough for his acceptance apart from his grace insults him.
  54. In its essence, legalism teaches that we are made right with God by what we do. The essential message is that good behavior gets us to God.
  55. The gospel is not a balance between law and grace. It is the good news of grace that results in grateful lives of godliness.
  56. While teaching (or implying) that obedience can merit grace is certainly unbiblical and damaging, not teaching what God commands is equally unbiblical and uncaring.
  57. True obedience is always a loving response to God’s grace, rather than a vain attempt to earn it.
  58. When we love God above all, fulfillment of his purposes is our greatest reward.
  59. Punishment intends to inflict harm on the guilty in order to impose a deserved penalty for wrongdoing. Discipline intends to turn a person from harm, to restore, and to mature.
  60. Biblical fear is not simply cowering before God’s power and majesty or bowing before his love and mercy. It is a proper regard for all that we know about God’s character and care.
  61. To motivate genuine holiness, hell must first be perceived as the just destiny of those who have broken the righteous standards of God. Those standards must also be seen as rooted in the holiness of God, and their transgression as deserving an eternal penalty. When all this is understood, then the mercy of God that saves us from the just penalty of hell, more than hell itself, is what generates love for him.
  62. The more we repent, the more we remove barriers from our fellowship with Christ, and the more we experience the joy of the forgiveness he has already secured for us.
  63. Forgiveness is not the same thing as pardon. Forgiveness is the provision of grace that obliterates relational barriers between us and God. Pardon is the removal of the consequences of sin.
  64. All believers will experience eternal pardon for their sin, but grace now requires that consequences sometimes be allowed in this life to turn us from greater sin and harm
  65. Our repentance does not earn his favor; it expresses our sickness over our own sin and our desire to turn from it into a closer walk with him.

voices-from-the-pastVoices from the Past: Puritan Devotional Readings. Edited by Richard Rushing. Banner of Truth. 428 pages. 2009
****

The author writes that over the past fifty years there has been a great resurgence of interest in the writings of the Puritans.  I was personally introduced to the Puritans about twenty years ago by my pastor through the wonderful Puritan reprints of Dr. Don Kistler and also via The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions. Richard Rushing has developed this book of daily readings extracted from some of his favorite Puritan authors (a second volume was recently published). His prayer is that these readings will stimulate the reader to explore further the writings of these spiritual giants.

Each of the short readings (approximately 350 words), begins with a Scripture verse. The author selected the verse according to the theme of the reading. While some of the devotions appear almost as written, others have been condensed by the author so that several pages form a single devotional reading. At the end of each reading is the Puritan author and a citation from where Richard Rushing pulled the reading.  I plan to use this wonderful resource as a part of my devotional reading for 2017.

60-days-of-happiness60 Days of Happiness: Discover God’s Promise of Relentless Joy by Randy Alcorn. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 304 pages. 2017
****

Respected author Randy Alcorn states that our problem isn’t that we want to be happy. Rather, our problem is that we keep looking for happiness in all of the wrong places. He writes that this new book, drawn from selected portions of his acclaimed 2016 book Happiness, will take you to God, the primary source of happiness in the universe. The book then connects the secondary sources of happiness back to the God who created them and graciously gives them to us.

The author has reworked the material from Happiness to present it here in a fresh and different way. I have not yet read Happiness, which is nearly 500 pages in length, though have read his small God’s Promise of Happiness, which encouraged me to read this medium sized book. For this book, the author and editor have selected subjects that most lend themselves to personal growth and worshipful meditation on God and his Word, which will be an excellent way to start 2017. Each of the 60 daily readings begin with a scripture verse and an inspirational quote (Tim Keller, Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, etc.), and end with a prayer. I am using the book for daily devotional reading, though it can certainly be read straight through as you would a regular book. Whether you have read the larger Happiness and would like to return to the subject in a devotional format, or whether you haven’t read Happiness but want to learn what God and his people have said about the subject of happiness throughout the centuries, I think you will enjoy and be blessed by this new book.

how-would-jesus-voteHow Would Jesus Vote? Do Your Political Positions Really Align with the Bible? By Darrell L. Bock. Howard Books. 272 pages. 2016
***

The title of this book is somewhat misleading, as the author admits himself that we don’t even know if Jesus would indeed vote. If you were expecting a book that would tell you clearly where Jesus himself would vote on some of the major issues in this year’s election, you might be disappointed. However, what the author does is look at a number of key issues and then looks at what Scripture says overall, and what Jesus in particular says about them. In most cases, he then offers a balanced view, not conservative or liberal, on the issue. The one issue that is the exception to this is abortion.

The book reminded me of Scott Sauls’ excellent book Jesus Outside the Lines in the way it takes a thoughtful, not either/or view on most of the issues discussed. The book is “an attempt to present the values of Jesus and Scripture in a way that challenges cherry-picking on complex issues of policy. It’s about biblical values, government, and our neighbors.” While we don’t know whether Jesus would vote, the author states that we can know the principles he taught that relate to how we are to interact with others.

The well-researched book begins with an introduction to the principles our country was founded on. The author than has two “Starting Points” chapters that lay the foundation needed before he begins talking about the issues that divide us. The remaining chapters examine some of the most contentious political topics of our time in the light of Scripture and the teachings of Jesus.  Those issues include the size of government, poverty and wealth, health care, immigration, gun control, foreign policy, war, race, education, sexuality and abortion.

I found this book to be helpful in looking at these issues that divide us. The author states that should Jesus vote, “his ballot would be cast for that which honors God and allows his creatures to flourish in life and to manage the creation well. His party would pursue the virtue that makes for a stable society and respects that we are all made in God’s image.”

what-grieving-people-wish-you-knewWhat Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts) by Nancy Guthrie. Crossway. 192 pages. 2016
****

I can’t recall reading a more helpful and practical book as the latest from Nancy Guthrie.   I was aware of the author as a teacher that the women in my church respect, but the topic grabbed my attention.  This book came at just the right time – you see, our family lost a loved one just over four months ago. Grief hits everyone differently. I saw that with my family when I lost my Mom twenty years ago, and again recently as I lost my father-in-law. This book was exactly what I needed to effectively be able to minister to family members who are grieving, and it’s going to be extremely helpful for all who read it and are the beneficiaries of the wisdom contained within.

The book is dedicated to the thousands of GriefShare facilitators in churches. I was familiar with GriefShare, as a family member is currently benefitting from a GriefShare group and several family members are receiving their daily encouraging email each morning.

The author and her husband are not strangers to grief, having lost two small children. Since those losses, she has interacted with many grieving people. She asked them to tell her what others said or did for them that was especially helpful or meaningful in the midst of grief. She asked them what they wish those around them had understood about their grief. She has incorporated what those grieving people told her throughout this book. Her hope for the book, which I certainly found to be the case, is that we will find ideas and encouragement and be emboldened to engage instead of avoid, the grieving people who are all around us and are waiting for someone to interact with them about the loss of their loved one.  I found in these pages many helpful things to say (and not to say) with those who are grieving, and to do (and not to do) with those who are grieving. There are just too many helpful suggestions included in the book. You just have to read (and highlight) those suggestions and examples for yourself.

The author concludes this helpful and practical book with a few questions that often arise concerning how to comfort the grieving and her suggested answers. She also shares suggested Scriptures to share with those who are grieving, many of which are from the Psalms.

I highly recommend this book for all, as we will all face grief ourselves as well as be in situations where we are ministering to family, friends, co-workers and church members who are grieving. This is one of my top books of the year.

nancy-guthrie

Memorable Quotes from the Book

Here are 25 great quotes from Nancy Guthrie’s excellent new book What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts), one of the top books I’ve read this year:

  1. The first and most important thing I have to tell you is this: It matters less what you say than that you say something.
  2. Don’t hesitate to approach someone because you think it has been too long since his or her loved one died so that they’ve probably moved on and wouldn’t want to talk about it anymore. The reality is more likely to be the opposite.
  3. Even if you come up with the perfect thing to say (as if there is such a thing), it simply won’t fix the hurt or solve the problem of the people who are grieving. Really, there is nothing you can say that will make their loss hurt less. It’s going to hurt for a while. Your purpose in saying something is to enter into the hurt with them and let them know they are not alone.
  4. Grieving people are not expecting you to make the pain go away. They’re really just hoping that you will be willing to hurt with them. That’s what makes a great friend in the midst of grief!
  5. Don’t assume you know what someone else is feeling.
  6. Grieving people don’t need us to tell them what to do. They are not looking for advice unless they ask for it. They do, however, need caring, wise, close-by friends to talk with them about decisions that need to be made in a time when it is hard to think straight.
  7. A person who is sad doesn’t necessarily need to be cheered up but needs time, space, and permission to simply be sad for a while.
  8. Don’t tell them they need to move on. There is no timeline for grief, no appropriate or reasonable time frame for being really sad.
  9. I said the most typical thing people say to grieving people. And the minute I said it, I wished I hadn’t. I should know better. Here’s what I said, or more accurately, what I asked: “How are you?” Many grieving people say they simply hate the question.
  10. The reality of grief is that sometimes right after the loss we feel strong, but as time passes and the dailyness of life without the loved one settles in, we feel weak and weepy. And it can be awkward to talk about.
  11. I noted two things in particular that grieving people told me over and over again that they really want people to say to them. First, grieving people long to hear stories about the person who died and specific things she said or did that were meaningful and memorable. The second thing people told me they really want people to say to them—and this may be the most powerful way you can bring comfort to someone who is grieving—is to keep saying the name of the person who died.
  12. If I had to boil down the message of this entire book to just two words, these two would probably cover it: show up. Or, to put it another way, don’t disappear; don’t avoid. Enter in. Engage.
  13. The truth is, most people process grief through talking.
  14. We have to earn the right to laugh around or with our grieving friends. We earn that right by being willing to weep with them, by demonstrating and perhaps telling them outright that we are well aware of the load of grief they are carrying and that we don’t assume it is going to be dealt with quickly.
  15. What grieving people really need is a few friends who make it clear that they intend to show up and help out, not just in an initial spurt of effort but over the long haul.
  16. When we’ve lost someone we love, we have a hard time understanding how the earth can keep spinning and people can keep doing the daily things of life since it seems that everything about our world has changed. We want the world to stop and take notice.
  17. There is nothing like getting handwritten notes and cards in the mail. Nothing.
  18. I have come to think that one of the gifts given to us in the death of someone we love is that we think more about eternal things. We are awakened to the reality that this life is not all there is.
  19. In addition to the broad assumption that pretty much everybody goes to heaven or at least people who haven’t done anything really bad go to heaven, there is broad misunderstanding of what heaven really is.
  20. One book I’ve come across communicates like no other these truths about heaven and how they can make a difference to the grieving person—the only one I’ve bought in bulk to give to people—is Grieving, Hope and Solace. It is a beautiful book to give to someone in the midst of grief, written by Albert Martin following the death of his wife, Marilyn.
  21. Paul commanded us to comfort one another with the truth of the resurrection yet to come. Surely this reality should impact the words we use as we seek to comfort those who are grieving the death of someone they love who died in Christ.
  22. Our culture wants to put the Band-Aid of heaven on the hurt of losing someone we love. Sometimes it seems like the people around us think that because we know the one we love is in heaven, we shouldn’t be sad. But they don’t understand how far away heaven feels, and how long the future seems as we see before us the years we have to spend on this earth before we see the one we love again.
  23. Sometimes grieving people are told that they shouldn’t be sad, because the person they love is now in heaven. But such a remark ignores the deep pain and intense loneliness the grieving feel. There is room to be both deeply joyful that the deceased loved one is in the presence of God while also deeply sad that he or she is no longer sharing day-to-day life on this earth.
  24. To tell those working their way through grief that something must be wrong with them since they are still so sad suggests not only that they are doing this grief thing wrong but that the person who died really wasn’t worth being this sad over, in this way, for this long.
  25. It is our grief that keeps us feeling close to the person who died. There is a sweetness to the misery in that when we are thinking about that person, shedding tears over the loss, it actually helps us to feel closer to him or her.

the-chief-exercise-of-prayer-by-john-calvinThe Chief Exercise of Faith: John Calvin on Prayer (From The Institutes) by John Calvin. Cross-Points.org. 84 pages. 2016
****

This small book is an excerpt of Henry Beveridge’s 1845 translation of John Calvin’s classic work Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 20. The book is broken down into 52 individual sections. As an example, Section 2 is on prayer defined, its necessity and use.

Calvin covers many aspects of prayer in this short but exhaustive book on prayer. Here are ten of the topics or thoughts from Calvin that I highlighted as I read the book:

  1. The true object of prayer is to carry our thoughts directly to God, whether to celebrate his praise or implore his aid.
  2. God is to be invoked only in the name of Christ. We pray to God in the name of Christ alone.
  3. The Lord’s Prayer contains everything that we can or ought to ask of God.
  4. The rules of prayer. Let the first rule of right prayer then be, to have our heart and mind framed as becomes those who are entering into converse with God.
  5. One of the requisites of legitimate prayer is repentance.
  6. The suppression of all pride. He who comes into the presence of God to pray must divest himself of all vainglorious thoughts, lay aside all idea of worth; in short, discard all self- confidence, humbly giving God the whole glory, lest by arrogating anything, however little, to himself, vain pride cause him to turn away his face.
  7. The laws of prayer. It is also of importance to observe, that the four laws of prayer of which I have treated are not so rigorously enforced, as that God rejects the prayers in which he does not find perfect faith or repentance, accompanied with fervent zeal and wishes duly framed.
  8. Christ is the only Mediator between God and man. It is manifest sacrilege to offer prayer to others.
  9. The principle we must always hold is, that in all prayer, public and private, the tongue without the mind must be displeasing to God.
  10. An exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, which is divided into six petitions. Subdivision into two principal parts, the former referring to the glory of God, the latter to our salvation.

There is much wisdom from Calvin about the subject of prayer in these pages. Highly recommended.

Andrew Fuller by John PiperAndrew Fuller: Holy Faith, Worthy Gospel, World Mission by John Piper. Crossway. 64 pages. 2016
****

Over the years I’ve enjoyed reading John Piper’s biographies of figures from church history, be they in his excellent Swans are Not Silent series or in short standalone books such as this one. Many of these biographies would have their roots in Piper’s addresses at his annual Pastor’s conference.

Andrew Fuller’s primary impact on history has been the impetus that his life and thought gave to modern missions, specifically through the Baptist Missionary Society’s sending of William Carey to India in 1793. This was with the support of Fuller, the society’s first secretary. The sending of William Carey and his team to India was the beginning of the modern missionary movement which Piper calls the most important historical development in the last two hundred years.

Fuller died on May 7, 1815, at the age of sixty-one. He had been the pastor of the Baptist church in Kettering for thirty-two years. He had no formal theological training but became the leading theological spokesman for the Particular Baptists in his day.

During his forty years of pastoral ministry in Soham and Kettering, Fuller tried to raise a family, pastor a church, engage the doctrinal errors of his day, and function as the leader of the Baptist Missionary Society, which he founded with others. Fuller was the primary promoter, thinker, fund-raiser, and letter writer of the society for over twenty-one years.

Piper writes that it was Fuller’s controversial and doctrinal writing that served the cause of world missions most. Fuller was a Calvinist. He battled hyper-Calvinism (or what he more often called High Calvinism), what Piper refers to as “church-destroying, evangelism-hindering, missions-killing doctrine of High Calvinism”.

Fuller’s greatest theological achievement was to see and defend and spread the truth that historic, biblical Calvinism fully embraced the offer of the gospel to all people without exception.  Fuller also battled Sandemanianism, which taught that the nature of saving faith is reduced to mere intellectual assent to a fact or proposition.

Piper states “We should learn the vital link between the doctrinal faithfulness of the church and the cause of world missions. The main impulse of our day is in the other direction.” He states that “getting Christian experience biblically right and getting the gospel biblically right are essential for the power and perseverance and fruitfulness of world missions”.

It’s important to know who Andrew Fuller was and what his contributions were to Christian history. Piper does a good job in this short biography covering why we need to know who Fuller was.

Heaven by Randy AlcornHeaven by Randy Alcorn. Tyndale House Publishers. 560 pages. 2011 edition.  
****

When losing a loved one my thoughts turn to Heaven. This happened when I lost my Mom twenty years ago and again recently when I lost my father-in-law. I’ve long wanted to read this book, but was probably intimidated by its massive size; I decided now was the time. As an added bonus, my mother-in law read the book at the same time I did, and we would occasionally talk about what we were reading.

Alcorn has done his research on this topic, having read 150 books on Heaven. He quotes liberally from many of those books.  He writes that in our seminaries, churches, and families, we have given “little attention to the place where we will live forever with Christ and his people—the New Earth, in the new universe”. The eternal Heaven is the central subject of this book.

Alcorn believes the book will stand up to biblical scrutiny. But right up front, he invites the reader to contact him if they have biblical grounds for disagreeing with anything in this book. He is open to correction and mentions that the revised edition of the book contains a number of changes he made based on input from readers of the first edition.

The book is organized as follows:

Part 1: In “A Theology of Heaven,” he explains the difference between the present Heaven (where Christians go when they die) and the ultimate, eternal Heaven (where God will dwell with his people on the New Earth).

Part 2: In “Questions and Answers about Heaven,” he addresses specific questions about life on the New Earth that arise out of the foundational teachings in Part 1. Part 3: In “Living in Light of Heaven,” he encourages the reader to let the doctrine of Heaven transform us and fill us with joyful anticipation.

He also includes the following:

  1. Appendix A: Christoplatonism’s False Assumptions
  2. Appendix B: Literal and Figurative Interpretation
  3. Selected Bibliography

Alcorn writes that most people do not find their joy in Christ and Heaven. Instead, he states, many people find no joy at all when they think about Heaven. They assume that they will be bored, playing a harp on the clouds all day long. He writes that many Christians who’ve gone to church all their adult lives (especially those under fifty) can’t recall having heard a single sermon on Heaven.

Alcorn states that nearly every notion of Heaven he presents in this book was stimulated and reinforced by biblical texts.  As you talk to others about Heaven as you read this book, they will probably ask “Where did he get that?” Alcorn helpfully lists scripture references throughout the book as he teaches about Heaven. He also states that we should ask God’s help to remove the blinders of our preconceived ideas about Heaven so we can understand what Scripture actually teaches about it.

Alcorn writes that when a believer dies, he or she enters into what is referred to in theology as the intermediate state. This is a transitional period between our past lives on Earth and our future resurrection to life on the New Earth. The intermediate or present Heaven is not our final destination.  Rather, we will live with Christ and each other forever, not in the intermediate, or present, Heaven, but on the New Earth, where God will be at home with his people.  In the book, when referring to the place believers go after death, Alcorn uses terms such as the present Heaven or the intermediate Heaven. He refers to the eternal state as the eternal Heaven or the New Earth.

Alcorn states that the problem is not that the Bible doesn’t tell us much about Heaven. It’s that we don’t pay attention to what it does tell us.  He states that we were all made for a person and a place. Jesus is the person. Heaven is the place.

I found this to be a fascinating book, covering many aspects of Heaven that I had not previously thought of.

25 Quotes from Heaven by Randy Alcorn  

I recently read Randy Alcorn’s outstanding book Heaven. There was much of value in the 560 page book, and I commend it to you. Here are 25 helpful quotes from the book:

  1. Satan need not convince us that Heaven doesn’t exist. He need only convince us that Heaven is a place of boring, unearthly existence. If we believe that lie, we’ll be robbed of our joy and anticipation, we’ll set our minds on this life and not the next, and we won’t be motivated to share our faith.
  2. The best of life on Earth is a glimpse of Heaven; the worst of life is a glimpse of Hell. For Christians, this present life is the closest they will come to Hell. For unbelievers, it is the closest they will come to Heaven.
  3. When we die, believers in Christ will not go to the Heaven where we’ll live forever. Instead, we’ll go to an intermediate Heaven. In that Heaven—where those who died covered by Christ’s blood are now—we’ll await the time of Christ’s return to the earth, our bodily resurrection, the final judgment, and the creation of the new heavens and New Earth. If we fail to grasp this truth, we will fail to understand the biblical doctrine of Heaven.
  4. The present Heaven is a temporary lodging, a waiting place until the return of Christ and our bodily resurrection. The eternal Heaven, the New Earth, is our true home, the place where we will live forever with our Lord and each other.
  5. Simply put, though the present Heaven is “up there,” the future, eternal Heaven will be “down here.” If we fail to see that distinction, we fail to understand God’s plan and are unable to envision what our eternal lives will look like.
  6. We should stop thinking of Heaven and Earth as opposites and instead view them as overlapping circles that share certain commonalities.
  7. Our incorrect thinking about bodily resurrection stems from our failure to understand the environment in which resurrected people will live—the New Earth.
  8. Despite the radical changes that occur through salvation, death, and resurrection, we remain who we are. We have the same history, appearance, memory, interests, and skills. This is the principle of redemptive continuity. If we don’t grasp redemptive continuity, we cannot understand the nature of our resurrection.
  9. We will experience continuity between our current lives and our resurrected lives, with the same memories and relational histories.
  10. The doctrine of the new creation, extending not only to mankind, but to the world, the natural realm, and even nations and cultures, is a major biblical theme, though you would never know it judging by how little attention it receives among Christians.
  11. Our primary joy in Heaven will be knowing and seeing God. Every other joy will be derivative, flowing from the fountain of our relationship with God.
  12. Heaven’s greatest miracle will be our access to God. In the New Jerusalem, we will be able to come physically, through wide open gates, to God’s throne.
  13. Nothing demonstrates how far we’ve distanced ourselves from our biblical calling like our lack of knowledge about our destiny to rule the earth.
  14. It’s a common but serious mistake to spiritualize the eternal Kingdom of God.
  15. Our resurrection bodies will be free of the curse of sin, redeemed, and restored to their original beauty and purpose that goes back to Eden.
  16. If, as I believe, animal death was the result of the Fall and the Curse, once the Curse has been lifted on the New Earth, animals will no longer die. Just as they fell under mankind, so they will rise under mankind (Romans 8:21). This suggests people may become vegetarians on the New Earth, as they apparently were in Eden and during the time before the Flood.
  17. Many people wonder whether we’ll know each other in Heaven. What lies behind that question is Christoplatonism and the false assumption that in Heaven we’ll be disembodied spirits who lose our identities and memories.
  18. Jesus said the institution of human marriage would end, having fulfilled its purpose. But he never hinted that deep relationships between married people would end.
  19. The notion that relationships with family and friends will be lost in Heaven, though common, is unbiblical. It denies the clear doctrine of continuity between this life and the next and suggests our earthly lives and relationships have no eternal consequence.
  20. We’ll never question God’s justice, wondering how he could send good people to Hell. Rather, we’ll be overwhelmed with his grace, marveling at what he did to send bad people to Heaven.
  21. I believe we have more than just biblical permission to imagine resurrected races, tribes, and nations living together on the New Earth; we have a biblical mandate to do so.
  22. Work in Heaven won’t be frustrating or fruitless; instead, it will involve lasting accomplishment, unhindered by decay and fatigue, enhanced by unlimited resources. We’ll approach our work with the enthusiasm we bring to our favorite sport or hobby. Because there will be continuity from the old Earth to the new, it’s possible we’ll continue some of the work we started on the old Earth.
  23. I don’t look back nostalgically at wonderful moments in my life, wistfully thinking the best days are behind me. I look at them as foretastes of an eternity of better things.
  24. When we think of Heaven as unearthly, our present lives seem unspiritual, like they don’t matter. When we grasp the reality of the New Earth, our present, earthly lives suddenly matter.
  25. The fact that Heaven will be wonderful shouldn’t tempt us to take shortcuts to get there. If you’re depressed, you may imagine your life has no purpose—but you couldn’t be more wrong. Don’t make a terrible ending to your life’s story—finish your God-given course on Earth. When he’s done—not before—he’ll take you home in his own time and way. Meanwhile, God has a purpose for you here on Earth. Don’t desert your post.

good-angryGood and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness by David Powlison. New Growth Press. 256 pages. 2016
****

David Powlison serves as the Executive Director of the Counseling & Education Foundation (CCEF), and has decades of counseling experience.  He writes that this book is not about “solving” anger problems, but to teach the reader how to more fruitfully and honestly deal with our anger. He tells us that if we are willing to enter the conversation the book will prove to be about our anger. He wants us to think about reading the book as an honest conversation about something that really matters.  One goal of this book is that the reader will think more carefully about how they think when angry, so that our “inner courtroom” will grow more just.

He divides the book into four sections. The first section helps the reader ask questions and explore our particular experience of anger. The second section answers the question what is anger? The third section tackles how destructive anger is changed into something constructive. The final section looks at particular difficult cases.

He suggests that we read the book with a pen and yellow highlighter in hand. He wants us to pay close attention whenever we find ourselves thinking “But what about…?” (Or as he refers to them as BWAs). He states that the book is the product of hundreds of BWAs that he has asked about anger over many years. He tells us that if we take the book to heart, we’ll get anger right more often.

The author states that at its core anger is very simple. He states that anger expresses ‘I’m against that.’ It is an active stance we take to oppose something that we assess as both important and wrong. He states that anger expresses the energy of our reaction to something we find offensive and wish to eliminate, and ultimately anger is about displeasure. Anger is the way we react when something we think important is not the way it’s supposed to be.

He defines good anger as the constructive displeasure of mercy. There are four key aspects to the constructive displeasure of mercy. Each of these four implies active disapproval of what’s happening. But, the author writes, unlike the vast bulk of anger, each breathes helpfulness in how it goes about addressing what it sees as wrong. The four key aspects are patience, forgiveness, charity and constructive conflict.  He states that we can’t “do” anger right without the constructive displeasure of mercy.

He tells us that anger is something we do with all of our heart, soul, mind, and body. We learn how to be angry in two different ways. We pick it up from others, and we develop our own style through long practice.

He refers to God as the most famous angry person in history. He writes that we can learn a great deal about ourselves and others by slowing down and taking an actual look at what is described as the “wrath of God.” He states that it is the clearest example he knows of how to get good and angry, as well as to be patient, merciful, and generous at the same time. He tells us that we can’t understand God’s love if we don’t understand His anger.

The author then tackles how we change, moving from darkness to light. He addresses how distorted humans become what they are meant to be. Here he looks at scripture passages such as James 3-4.

I found the book to be very helpful, and both practical and interactive, with several examples or case studies to illustrate the points he makes.  The book is organized effectively, addressing topics such as six common reactions to the statement that we all have an anger problem, six common wavelengths within the spectrum of bad anger and four expressions of anger in which God expresses his love for his people. He provides us eight questions to help us make sense of any incident of anger, which will help you turn an anger incident into something positive. He looks at four reasons that people feel angry at themselves. The author’s final word is that anger is going somewhere. It will someday be perfected, swallowed up in joy.

Favorite Quotes50 Great Quotes from Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness by David Powlison 

There is much of value in David Powlison’s new book Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining and Bitterness. I encourage you to read the entire book. Here are 50 great quotes from the book:

  1. It’s no surprise that when the apostle Paul lists typical sins, half his list belongs to the anger family (Galatians 5:19–21).
  2. The most immediate anger problem for many people is not what they do, but what someone else does to them.
  3. Irritability is anger on a hair trigger.
  4. Arguing is the disagreeable “he said, she said” of interpersonal friction.
  5. Bitterness expresses how anger can last a long, long time.
  6. Passive anger hides behind surface appearances and even beneath conscious awareness.
  7. Self-righteous anger enjoys the empowering sense of grievance, of getting in touch with honest emotion and expressing it freely. It feels good to let it out, and it often gets results.
  8. Anger always makes a value judgment. Anger is always a moral matter.
  9. What is anger? It’s the way we react when something we think important is not the way it’s supposed to be.
  10. Anger is a feeling of distress, trouble, and hatred.
  11. Anger is the attitude of judgment, legal condemnation, and moral displeasure. But judgment can show good judgment—and even mercy.
  12. Anger does things. It appears in accusatory words, sarcasm, threats, and curses. It adopts that tone of voice. Gestures and body language speak loudly: hitting the dashboard, giving a disgusted sigh, walking out of the room, raising the decibel level, rolling the eyes, scowling. You do anger with all that you are, and you do it as an inter-action.
  13. Anger has an object, a target.
  14. Anger is a central feature wherever conflict occurs: marriages, families, churches, workplaces, neighborhoods, and nations. People use anger to get what they want and to defeat other people.
  15. Anger is a weapon to coerce, intimidate, and manipulate others—and it is a shield to defend yourself.
  16. Anger happens for reasons that arise from who we are and what we want.
  17. Anger occurs not only in your body, emotions, thoughts, and actions. It comes from your deepest motives.
  18. When anger goes bad, it’s because motives operate in the godlike mode. “I want my way. I demand that you love me on my terms. I will prove that I am right at all costs.
  19. When anger goes right, there’s always something higher, some higher purpose or person who puts a cap on anger, who sets a limit on bitterness, who gives reasons not to whine and complain. The most high God, his higher law, his loving mercies, and his higher purposes transform anger.
  20. When God’s larger purposes are in control, the poisonous evil of anger is neutralized. Anger becomes a servant of goodness. The anger becomes just, and the purposes become merciful to all who will turn and trust and become conformed to his image. He changes our motives.
  21. Anger is the fighting emotion. Anger is the justice emotion. Anger is the deliver-the-oppressed-from-evil emotion. It stems from love for the needy. All of us come wired with a sense of justice. We can override it or pervert it. We can direct it to wholly selfish purposes.
  22. Our anger is natural. It is a capacity given by creation in the image of the God who is just.
  23. Your anger is Godlike to the degree you treasure justice and fairness and are alert to betrayal and falsehood. Your anger is devil-like to the degree you play god and are petty, merciless, whiny, argumentative, willful, and unfair.
  24. You learn exactly how to be angry in two different ways. You pick it up from others, and you develop your own style through long practice.
  25. Good anger operates as one aspect of mercy. It brings good into bad situations. It stands up for the helpless and victimized. It calls out wrongdoers, but holds out promises of forgiveness, inviting wrongdoers to new life.
  26. The actions and attitudes that express constructive displeasure of mercy are exactly how the Bible portrays the man Jesus in action. They also describe how a wise person acts. They describe someone who is becoming like Jesus.
  27. You can’t “do” anger right without the constructive displeasure of mercy.
  28. Constructive conflict is part of the redemption of a bad situation. It is the only merciful alternative to giving up in exhaustion, disgust, or fear.
  29. The constructive displeasure of mercy means the redemption of the world. It is the glory of God and the love of God. It is God reforming you into his image.
  30. To become slow to anger is to become like God. It is a quality that frequently describes God and frequently describes what we are meant to be.
  31. The things that naturally most outrage you, those things that most universally upset human beings everywhere, are the very things that the Bible labels “sin.”
  32. You can never really understand yourself (or God, or other people) unless you understand both sin and the wrath of God.
  33. The constructive displeasure of mercy makes God’s anger your friend.
  34. Naturally those who repent of an angry critical spirit become full of mercy.
  35. Anger is provoked. Anger has an occasion. Anger is about something. Anger flares up for some reason, in some specific time and place.
  36. Your anger reaction is not caused by the situation alone. It is caused by what you most deeply believe and most passionately cherish—right now, when you find yourself in this situation.
  37. Anger has consequences. It creates feedback loops, vicious circles. The Bible uses a vivid metaphor: you reap what you sow.
  38. Studies seem to show that angry people have a higher incidence of heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
  39. When something is so wrong that you will never get over it, your reaction will either make you live or it will kill you. Great suffering puts a fork in the road, and you will choose. The choice is between the way of bitterness and the way of grace and mercy.
  40. Learning to live fruitfully in the face of great wrong will take a lifetime of going to God for mercy and help in your time of need.
  41. One of the effects of being marked by suffering is learning to value the future. Not all the crying or pain goes away now, but he will make all things new.
  42. Everyday angers are very difficult to overcome. They become habits we’re not even aware of. But habits that have become second nature can change—rarely in an instant, usually in a slow growth process in the right direction. The Lord who creates a new nature in you will stick by you.
  43. Jesus tells it to us straight: grumbling is a most serious sin, a capital crime, a primal offense against the God whose universe this.
  44. From Jesus’s point of view, all everyday disgust and negativity shares DNA with murder, after all.
  45. Even when self-condemnation is merciless, the Father of all mercies has mercy for people who need mercy. He is mercy. And he comes in person looking for you.
  46. There is something instinctive, irrational, compulsive, and virulent about anger at God.
  47. Anger at God is not first an emotion. It is the stance a person takes, a core commitment of the heart.
  48. Anger at God is wrong. It overflows with mistrust toward God. The presence of anger depends on the presence of evil.
  49. Wherever there is evil, you find anger. Where there is no evil, you find no anger. No possibility of anger.
  50. Are you being remade into the image of God? Is your anger something that you grieve, because you see how your irritations and resentments are so often reckless and self-serving? If you are being remade into his image, then you will join his battle to rid the world of wrong. You will participate in the wrath of God. If you are not being remade into his image, then you are his enemy. You will experience the wrath of God against you.

every-season-prayersEvery Season Prayers: Gospel-Centered Prayers for the Whole of Life by Scotty Smith. Baker Books. 336 pages. 2016.
****

With his first book, 2001’s Objects of His Affection, I was gripped by the honesty, transparency and Gospel-centeredness of Scotty Smith. I told my pastor that my desire was to take a class at Covenant Seminary with Scotty. Much later, I was blessed to have not one, but two wonderful classes with Scotty that I described as small tastes of Heaven, and have since read with joy each of his books. His daily Heavenward prayers come into my email inbox and often times speak directly to something that my wife and I have been dealing with at the time. He has told me that he receives similar feedback from friends all around the world.

His first book of prayers, Everyday Prayers, has been a daily companion of mine since it was published in 2011. I’m so excited about this new volume of prayers, which will be a treasured part of my morning devotional reading.

This new sequel to Everyday Prayers, which had a prayer for each day of the year, is arranged topically, so readers can, as Scotty tells us, find a prayer applicable to a particular need, mood or issue. He states that he wrote most of these new prayers in response to comments asking him for prayers for a particular topic. He also received many suggestion for prayers of different forms, lengths and voices, including many from pastors and worship leaders for prayers of confession and family worship.

Scotty’s intent with this new book, as it was with Everyday Prayers, is to equip God’s people to pray, not to do their praying for them.  To help with that, he has included exercises in the book that will enable the reader to develop their own voice in prayer as well as cultivate a listening heart.

It is with joy that I highly commend this new book of prayers to you. May it be a wonderful daily companion for years to come!

we-shall-see-god-alcornWe Shall See God: Charles Spurgeon’s Classic Devotional Thoughts on Heaven by Randy Alcorn. Tyndale House Publishers. 336 pages. 2011
****

This unique book of 50 readings features excerpts from the sermons of the great London preacher Charles Spurgeon on the subject of heaven, along with supplemental thoughts from Randy Alcorn. Alcorn has read more than 150 books on heaven and has written a bestseller on the subject appropriately titled, Heaven. Alcorn writes that Spurgeon’s teachings about heaven are some of the most poignant, moving, and biblically insightful that he has read on the subject. This book is his attempt to help readers access wonderful Spurgeon insights into heaven they might otherwise never know.

Alcorn has taken some steps to make Spurgeon’s writings more readable to the modern reader (shortening sentences, substituting words to more plainly communicate his thoughts, adding explanatory information in brackets where there are confusing phrases, using the English Standard Version (ESV) translation rather than the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, etc.).

In each of Alcorn’s portions, he refers back to something Spurgeon has said in his sermons. Sometimes he integrates stories from Spurgeon’s life that help give context and personal meaning to his words. He also quotes other authors whose books Spurgeon read and loved, including Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Richard Baxter, and Jonathan Edwards.

This summer I read this book as a devotional while I read Alcorn’s Heaven.

Christians Get Depressed TooChristians Get Depressed Too ~ Helpful Resources

Most reading this will have either gone through seasons of depression themselves (including anxiety and panic attacks), or walked through those seasons with friends or family members.  In fact, David Murray in his fine book Christians Get Depressed Too, states that one in five people experience depression, and one in ten experiences a panic attack at some stage in their lives.

Though I have not personally experienced depression myself, I know many who have. And when on a medication intended to prevent migraine headaches several years ago I experienced significant anxiety symptoms. That better helped me to understand what those who suffer from depression, anxiety and panic attacks are going through.

I have been greatly helped by David Murray’s work on depression through his HeadHeartHand blog and his book Christians Get Depressed Too, which I recently read for the second time.

Below are helpful resources from Dr. Murray and others, to help those who suffer from depression and those who are walking alongside them.

  • Book Review of Christians Get Depressed Too
  • 25 Helpful Quotes from David Murray’s book
  • Resource list to give you help and hope

Christians Get Depressed TooBOOK REVIEW:

Christians Get Depressed Too by David Murray. Reformation Heritage Books. 112 pages. 2010. 

David Murray writes that his hope is that the reader will find something in this short but helpful book that will either help them in their suffering or that will help them in ministering to the suffering. Murray argues that some Christians do get depressed. He looks at why and how we should study depression. He then defines what depression is and the different approaches to helping people with depression. He then looks at what the sufferer, caregivers and the church can do.  The book contains a brief explanation of the condition, the causes, and the cures for both the sufferers and the caregivers. He provides a helpful list of some additional books on depression that are more comprehensive and exhaustive, and also an appendix on the sufficiency of Scripture.

Murray writes than an amazing one in five people experiences depression, and one in ten experiences a panic attack at some stage in his life. He states that an estimated 121 million people worldwide suffer from depression, with 5.8 percent of men and 9.5 percent of women experiencing a depressive episode in any given year. Of great concern, suicide, sometimes the end result of depression, is the leading cause of violent deaths worldwide, accounting for 49.1 percent of all violent deaths compared with 18.6 percent in war and 31.3 percent by homicide.

Murray writes that it is absolutely vital for Christians to understand and accept that while depression usually has serious consequences for our spiritual life, it is not necessarily caused by problems in our spiritual life.

Murray looks critically at Jay Adams’s extreme position of “almost always spiritual” in both causes and cures in his nouthetic counseling movement and in the modern biblical counseling movement. That view states that depression is caused by sin; therefore, rebuke, repentance, and confession are required. This idea is widespread in the evangelical church.  On the positive side, Murray writes that Adams has shown the need to address the spiritual dimension of mental and emotional suffering. In doing so, he restored the Bible’s central role in counseling and secured the role of Christian pastors and counselors in treatments. The author states that while Adams is to be commended for giving an important place to personal responsibility, he errs in placing all responsibility on the depressed patient. He writes that his main concern with the nouthetic counseling movement is its assumption that behind almost every episode of depression is personal sin. Regrettably, the author states that the modern biblical counseling movement still uses language that supports this conclusion.

Murray writes that it is important to acknowledge the possibility of a primarily spiritual cause to some depressions, pointing to biblical examples from the Psalms, specifically David in Psalm 32 and 51. But he suggests that we should assume the same default position with someone suffering from depression as with someone who has a physical ailment. That is, we should assume that their depression is a result of living as a fallen creature in a fallen world rather than assume that the person has caused his suffering by his personal sin.

He writes that we need to recognize the exceeding complexity of depression and resist the temptation to propose and accept simple analyses and solutions. He writes about a balance between medicines for the brain, rest for the body, counsel for the mind, and spiritual encouragement for the soul. Recovery will usually take patient perseverance over a period of many months, and in some cases, even years.

He writes that in some people, there is very likely an inherited genetic tendency to depression. However, there is almost always a providential trigger involved to some degree. He states that perhaps the most obvious symptoms of depression are the depressed person’s unhelpful thought patterns, which tend to distort his view of reality in a false and negative way, adding to his depression or anxiety.

Murray provides bodily symptoms of depression with biblical citations, which includes disturbed sleep, tiredness, weight fluctuations, digestive problems, loss of appetite, bodily pain, choking feelings and breathlessness. He looks at five triggers of depression: stress, psychology, sin, sickness, and sovereignty.

For the believer, Murray writes that however strange it may seem to you, God wants you to go through this depression—so look at it positively, not negatively. We should look at what the Lord wants us to learn from it? What can we gain from going through it?

Murray writes that when a Christian becomes depressed, there are often painful spiritual consequences, such as a loss of assurance. As a result, depressed believers then jump to the conclusion that there is also a spiritual cause (usually their own sins or hypocrisy or failures of one kind or another). But he states that just as it is usually wrong to think that there is a spiritual cause for cancer, it is also wrong to think of depression this way. As for non-Christians, depression in the Christian is often caused by stressful life events and lifestyles or unhelpful thought patterns.

Murray writes that if you are depressed, the first question you must ask yourself is, “Do I want to be made whole?” He states that you have no hope of recovery from depression unless you want to recover and are, therefore, prepared to play your own significant part in the recovery process. He states that one of the most common contributory factors to depression is wrong and unhelpful thoughts.

He provides some practical things you can do to help address the spiritual consequences of depression. We can accept that being depressed is not necessarily a sin and indeed is compatible with Christianity.  However, he does state that a Christian’s depression may be the result of some specific sin or sins. If that is the case, the sin is to be repented of and we should seek God’s pardon for the sin and God’s power over the sin.

He provides helpful areas for caregivers to consider when they are trying to help a depressed person get better.

Murray states that it is important that we learn about depression in order to avoid the common mistakes that laypeople often make when dealing with the depressed and in order to be of maximum benefit to those who are suffering.

We should feel free to encourage depressed people to have a more realistic view of themselves by highlighting their God-given gifts, their contributions to the lives of others, their usefulness in society, and, if they are Christians, their value to the church.

Dr. Murray tells us that the more we understand depression, the less likely it is that we will say hurtful and damaging things.  He states that it is important to realize that there are no easy answers and there are no quick fixes in dealing with depression. It usually takes many months, and in some cases even years, to recover.

The author includes some recommendations on additional books on depression that will be helpful to the reader.

25 Helpful Quotes from Christians Get Depressed Too by David Murray

Here are some helpful quotes from David Murray’s fine book Christians Get Depressed Too:

  1. The depressed believer cannot concentrate to read or pray. As she doesn’t want to meet people, she may avoid church and fellowship. She often feels God has abandoned her.
  2. The general rule is that those who listen most and speak least will be the most useful to sufferers.
  3. There are three simplistic extremes that we should avoid when considering the cause of depression: first, that it is all physical; second, that it is all spiritual; third, that it is all mental.
  4. For far too long, Christian writers and speakers in this area have been overly influenced by Jay Adams’s extreme position of “almost always spiritual” in both causes and cures
  5. To put all the blame for depression on the individual is wrong, damaging, and dangerous, as it can only increase feelings of guilt and worthlessness.
  6. The nouthetic counseling movement grew out of a frustration at the way in which secular doctors and psychiatrists squeezed Christian pastors and counselors out of any role in the treatment of mental illness. However, in the valiant and commendable attempt to secure a much-needed place for Christian pastors and counselors in the treatment of mental illness, the nouthetic counseling movement has often gone to the opposite extreme in attempting to exclude doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists from the treatment process. In both cases the sufferer is the one who loses out.
  7. My main concern with the nouthetic counseling movement is its assumption that behind almost every episode of depression is personal sin. Regrettably, the modern biblical counseling movement still uses language that supports this conclusion.
  8. Too often, language is still used that would lead most readers or hearers to think that all depression is caused by personal sin, that medication is always a sinful response to depression (treating only superficial symptoms), and that repentance of heart-idolatry is always the cure.
  9. I agree with the general stance taken by the authors of I’m Not Supposed to Feel Like This, that we should, in general, reassure Christians suffering from depression that most often their damaged spiritual relationships and feelings are not the cause of their depression, but the consequence of it.
  10. Depression afflicts the strong and the weak, the clever and the simple, those with a happy temperament and those of a melancholy temperament.
  11. There are usually no quick fixes. For Christians there will often need to be a balance between medicines for the brain, rest for the body, counsel for the mind, and spiritual encouragement for the soul. Recovery will usually take patient perseverance over a period of many months, and in some cases, even years.
  12. Perhaps the most obvious symptoms of depression are the depressed person’s unhelpful thought patterns, which tend to distort his view of reality in a false and negative way, adding to his depression or anxiety.
  13. Everyone feels sad from time to time, but depression-related sadness is overwhelming and long-term.
  14. Because of your distorted view of yourself, you feel your life is worthless. Indeed, you may feel your life is just a burden to and a blight upon others.
  15. (Those who are depressed) may start doing things that make them feel worse, like staying indoors, drinking alcohol, or pushing away people who care.
  16. Depression is often divided into two main categories—reactive and endogenous. Reactive depression is usually traced to some obvious trigger, perhaps a stressful life event or unhelpful thought patterns. Endogenous depressions are thought to be organic or biological in origin. It is the name usually given to depressions that seem to have no obvious external trigger, and they are often traced to genetic predisposition.
  17. Much of the increase in depression and anxiety today is largely the result of an unbalanced lifestyle where people are, on the one hand, working too hard and spending too much and, on the other hand, are exercising, resting, and sleeping too little.
  18. Non-Christians may be depressed because of their sin, in which case the cure is repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Sadly, many depressed unbelievers are being treated with chemicals when what they need is conversion.
  19. Blaming our depression on our sin is not only often wrong, it is also harmful. It is harmful because it increases false guilt and deepens feelings of failure. It also makes depressed Christians seek a spiritual solution to a problem that may actually originate in the body, life events, lifestyle, or unhelpful thought patterns.
  20. Now we will look at some of the cures. However, before we do so, we must ask the depressed person a vital question: “Do you want to be made whole?”
  21. Christians are obliged to challenge falsehood and distortions of reality, especially when they find them in themselves.
  22. It is imperative, therefore, that we learn about depression in order to avoid the common mistakes that laypeople often make when dealing with the depressed and in order to be of maximum benefit to those who are suffering.
  23. We should feel free to encourage depressed people to have a more realistic view of themselves by highlighting their God-given gifts, their contributions to the lives of others, their usefulness in society, and, if they are Christians, their value to the church.
  24. The more you understand depression, the less likely it is that you will say hurtful and damaging things.
  25. If you suspect someone is considering suicide, then you should sensitively and wisely ask the person if he is thinking along these lines and if he has already made a plan.

Hope and Healing_Resource List to give you Help and Hope  

Session from the 2013 Ligonier National Conference on Christians Get Depressed Too. In this session based on his book Christians Get Depressed Too, Dr. Murray offers help and hope to those suffering from depression, the family members and friends who care for them, and pastors ministering to these wounded members of their flock.

Christians Get Depressed Too Films. These 35-40 minute films present five Christians with five very different stories of depression and of how God gave them hope and help to recover.

Depression. Dr. Murray describes depression, then analyzes its causes and cures in this 45 minute message

The Three Most Common Causes of Depression  Dr. Murray shares from his years of counseling the three most common causes of depression.

Book Recommendations and Articles. Dr. Murray shares recommended books and a number of helpful articles on depression.

Below are a few books that I have found helpful on depression, anxiety, worry and discouragement from other authors:

Are there other resources related to depression that you have found helpful? Please share them with us.

If You Can Keep ItIf You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty by Eric Metaxas. Viking. 272 pages. 2016
***

The author, one of my favorites, writes of the promise of liberty for the new nation as was laid out in the Constitution. He states that although the current situation in America is grave (more about that at the end of my review), much of the promise has already been fulfilled.

The book title comes from a quote from Benjamin Franklin. In response to a woman about what kind of nation the Founders had given the American people, he replied “A republic, if you can keep it”.  Metaxas asks if we can keep it and if so, how?

He writes that America was founded on the idea of liberty, and that America exists for others. Its mission is to the rest of the world.  Our exceptionalism is for others. He writes that the concept of self-government was a new idea.

Metaxas writes of the “Golden Triangle of Freedom”, a concept that Os Guinness (to whom the book is dedicated), developed in his book A Free People’s Suicide. This is the concept that Freedom requires Virtue; Virtue requires Faith; and Faith requires Freedom.

Metaxas writes that America’s Founders knew that communities that took their faith seriously tended to be virtuous in the way that self-government required.  Faith in turn requires freedom, because unless people are free to practice whatever faith they choose, that faith is coerced by the state, and therefore not real faith at all. He writes that unfortunately, as a nation, we have largely forgotten the ideas on which our country was founded upon.

He writes about what it means to be an American, and that most people wrongly understand the concept known as the separation of church and state, and also believe that it is in the Constitution, which it is not.

He writes about the role of British preacher/evangelist George Whitefield in forming America,  a fact that was new to me. He indicates that Whitefield showed that different denominations could co-exist in the new country. Whitefield taught that each person was equal in the sight of God, and that each person could have a direct relationship with God through the new birth. Metaxas writes that some call Whitefield the “Spiritual Father of the United States”.

Throughout the book Metaxas writes of heroes such as Paul Revere, George Washington, Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln.  He states that in the past fifty years, we have moved to the veneration of heroes in America to the suspicion of them.

He writes about the importance of the character of a leader and the role that character plays in our leaders. He states that is important because leaders influence us. As a result, leaders should be held to a higher standard. He writes that you cannot have self-government without virtuous leaders.  He discusses the exceptionalism of America, an idea that has been under attack by some, indicating that it was the virtuous behavior of the people based on their faith in God that made America exceptional. He writes that America is about doing good to others. We exist for others. He cites Winthrop, Lincoln, Kennedy and Reagan in saying that America is a city shining on a hill. Lincoln even went so far as to call America God’s “almost chosen people” and that the idea of America was a holy calling.  He sadly states that this is largely forgotten now.

He talks about what it means to love this country, an idea which has fallen on hard times in the years since the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. He states that when looking at America, you have to look at both sides, the good and the bad.

He writes of what he calls the “miracle” of the Constitution, telling us that those involved were at an impasse. Ben Franklin, of all people, exhorted them to pray and ask for God’s help. After they did, things seemed to move along, and many who were there said that it really did seem miraculous.

The author, who does an excellent job narrating the audiobook version of the book, loves his country, despite its faults. This is an inspiring book.  He writes that our current situation is grave and that we are a nation that has forgotten what it is at the core. But as much as he writes about the role of religious liberty being at the core of our nation, he doesn’t begin to address the many ways that liberty is being squelched in our country today.

Metaxas is an important voice in our culture today, in many ways coming to the forefront in his address at the sixtieth annual National Prayer Breakfast, which was turned into the book No Pressure, Mr. President! The Power Of True Belief In A Time Of Crisis: The National Prayer Breakfast Speech. I would have liked much more about our current state, building on what he writes here. I hope there is a follow-up book that addresses those issues and suggestions on how to get back to our core.

The Blessing of HumilityThe Blessing of Humility: Walk within Your Calling by Jerry Bridges. NavPress. 144 pages. 2016
****

This is the final book written by Jerry Bridges, who died on March 6 at the age of 86. His books have meant a great deal to me over the years, from The Pursuit of Holiness to this final volume.

Bridges writes that the real value of this book (on the Beatitudes taught by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount), comes as you read each chapter reflectively and prayerfully. He suggests that we ask God to help us see ourselves as we really are in the light of each of the character traits covered in the eight Beatitudes. Then, ask God to help us grow in the areas where we see ourselves to be most needy. The character traits in the Beatitudes, which constitute the major portion of this book, are all expressions of what Bridges calls “humility in action.”

Bridges writes that the character trait of humility is the second-most frequently taught trait in the New Testament, second only to love, and that all other character traits, in one way or another, are built upon love and humility.  He looks at the Beatitudes as expressions of Christian character that are a description of humility in action.  He states that all Christians are meant to display these characteristics, and that a life of humility is not an option for a believer to choose or reject. It is a command of God.  He tells us that if we want to apply the Bible’s teaching to our daily lives, we cannot ignore the call to live our ordinary lives in a spirit of humility.

In the eight short chapters of the book, Bridges looks at how humility expresses itself in the different circumstances and people we encounter as we live out our daily lives in a broken and sin-cursed world. The Beatitudes offer a portrait of humility in action, something which God commands and which God promises to bless. He states that it is impossible to truly walk in humility without to some degree appropriating the truth of the gospel every day, which he refers to as “preaching the gospel to ourselves every day”.

The book includes a helpful Discussion Guide, with questions developed by Bob Bevington.  This would be a wonderful book to read and discuss with others in a book club setting.

Pentecostal OurpouringsBook Review and Interview with one of the Authors:

Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition by Michael A. G. Haykin, Robert Davis Smart and Ian Hugh Clary. 280 pages.  Reformation Heritage Books.  2016.
****
The Mingling of SoulsThe Mingling of Souls: God’s Design for Love, Marriage, Sex and Redemption by Matt Chandler. David C. Cook. 224 pages. 2015
*** ½ 

We attended a live video broadcast of Matt Chandler, senior pastor at the Village Church in Dallas, presenting this material from the Song of Solomon. Along with our ticket to attend the event we received a copy of this book.

Chandler states:  “The sheer amount of confusion, heartbreak, and fear that I have witnessed at The Village Church in regard to romantic relationships and sex provides my primary motivation for writing this book.”

He writes that:  “What we learn in the Song of Songs is that a marriage shaped according to this gospel of grace, forged over years of hard-earned trust and forgiveness, can be an unsafe place for sin but a very safe place for sinners.”

I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to you. I highlighted a number of passages and would like to share some of them with you below:

  • Somewhere between fifth and ninth grades, depending on a variety of factors affecting development and awareness, what I like to call the “Day of Epiphany” occurs. Up until this moment, a child has been largely indifferent to the opposite sex or even thought they were “gross.” But on the Day of Epiphany, something changes. The indifference and repulsion had vanished. A particular member of the opposite sex caught your eye in a suddenly different way, and, well … you kind of wanted one. This is the Day of Epiphany. After the Day of Epiphany, boys begin to pursue and girls begin to want to be pursued.
  • The more recent struggle for men is the evaluation of “true masculinity.” Should we be sensitive or tough? If both, when? How do we display sensitivity in a way that doesn’t make us effeminate? And how do we display toughness in a way that doesn’t make us chauvinistic or stubborn?
  • Relationships built on physical attraction never last and tend to be superficial, self-absorbed, and legalistic.
  • If there is no evidence of commitment in his or her life, I would caution you to move very slowly into any kind of serious relationship. God has hardwired us for the commitment of companionship over and above sexual attraction or physical pleasure.
  • If you have physical attraction and no companionship in your relationship, you’ll eventually be miserable; but if you have deep companionship with each other, physical attraction isn’t as important and becomes less and less so as time passes.
  • If sex is what God says it is, then there are few things as damaging to the human soul as casual sexual encounters. The hookup culture is yet another symptom of a confused and broken society that has elevated the role of physical gratification and sex beyond the biblical norms and wasted them, sacrificing contentment and joy on the altar of momentary pleasure—leaving only brokenness and regret.
  • Therefore, men, don’t put the burden on your girlfriend or fiancée to keep turning down your advances or reminding you of God’s design for sex. Don’t put her in that position. You lead, and do so in a way that protects you both from sexual temptation.
  • We are told so many times that sex is bad, wrong, sinful, gross. And then we are expected to embrace it fully when we marry. That message is not a great way to set a couple free to marital intimacy.
  • When the trajectory for both partners is mutual Christlikeness, the next step is to chart the trajectory of your path as a couple. As you move from simply dating into a more serious version of dating, you arrive at what we might call courtship. Courtship is when you’re not just “dating to date” anymore, but you’re dating to move toward marriage.
  • In courtship, a couple are moving more and more toward entering the covenant of marriage, even if they are not engaged yet. In a weird way, they are perhaps “engaged to be engaged.”
  • If the gospel of Jesus Christ is not at the center of a wedding ceremony, it is likely not going to be at the center of the marriage.
  • Men, let me plead with you: The greatest fight of your life is not lust. You may think it is, but it isn’t. The greatest fight of your life will be rejecting the passivity that has infected your heart since the fall. Your natural default, especially as it pertains to sacrificial leadership of your wife, will be to mutely witness.
  • Here are ten “nevers” of communication, especially as it pertains to conflict:
  1. Never respond to your mate rashly.
  2. Never touch your mate out of temper or frustration, ever.
  3. Never seek to shame your spouse in public (or in private for that matter).
  4. Never fight in front of your kids (or use them as leverage in a disagreement).
  5. Never mention your spouse’s parents or any other family member.
  6. Never dig up the past; try to stay on topic.
  7. Never try to win.
  8. Never yell, use put-downs, or verbally defame your spouse.
  9. Never withhold physical intimacy or use sex to manipulate.
  10. Never put off seeking resolution.
  • If you want to throw logs on the fire of romance, husbands and wives, here’s the first thing you have to do: pay attention. You have the opportunity to see things that no one else does. So pay attention, study your spouse, learn him or her, and then you can turn around and use the things you’ve learned to demonstrate your love.
  • Song of Solomon chapter 8 is probably the most difficult of the chapters in the book.
  • Regardless of your stage in life, the first relationship I would spend a lot of time considering is your relationship with God. It is the gospel and our belief in it that make dating, courtship, engagement, marriage, and growing old together unbelievably vibrant.

Chandler ends each chapter of the journey through the Song by looking at how the gospel’s call to confession and repentance enters our mess and removes the weight of guilt and shame by pointing us to Jesus.

Uncommon MarriageUncommon Marriage: What We’ve Learned about Lasting Love and Overcoming Life’s Obstacles Together by Tony Dungy and Lauren Dungy. Tyndale. 264 pages. 2014. Audiobook read by the authors.
***

I’ve read and enjoyed each of Tony Dungy’s major books – Quiet Strength, Uncommon, The Mentor Leader, Uncommon Life Daily Challenge and now Uncommon Marriage, which was written with his wife Lauren.  The couple has been married for more than 32 years and have nine children, serving as foster parents prior to having their own children. In this book they share what has worked and some things that haven’t worked in their marriage. They take the reader through their married life using a biographical format, sharing key principles of an uncommon marriage.    

As newlyweds the Dungys found it important to find a new church home and began the practice of praying together. Lauren was a school teacher at the time, later becoming a stay at home mom. Tony was an Assistant Coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He would later serve in that capacity with the Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings, before becoming a Head Coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts.

They write of Tony confronting racism with the Kansas City police (this book was published before the recent issues with police and African Americans in Missouri, New York and South Carolina), and their son at a school in Tampa.

Laura writes of the challenge of effectively running their household and raising children with her husband unavailable so much due to his job as an NFL coach. Early in their marriage they began the practice of taking walks and bike rides to make sure they were communicating well. Good communication is critical to a healthy marriage. Lauren shares one time that their communication broke down (when Tony accepted the Minnesota job without discussing it with her).

Both Tony and Lauren were involved in Bible Study Fellowship (BSF), while in Minnesota. Overall however, Lauren was not happy in Minnesota, though Tony was. This was the first time they had not been on the same page in their marriage. Lauren writes about what she does when she and Tony disagree on an issue. She shares how she feels about the issue, and then submits to the leadership of her husband.

They discuss the importance of a weekly Date Night and Date Day, and prioritizing family time.

The division of responsibilities in the Dungy home is not necessarily traditional. They write about playing to the strengths of each. Tony and Lauren each have very different personalities.

They write about difficult times in their marriage, including the suicide of their son Jamie and getting fired as the Tampa Bay Head Coach, and how they leaned on God and each other during those times. They also write about the good times, such as winning the Super Bowl over friend Lovie Smith’s Chicago Bears.

Tony today works as a studio color analyst on the NBC’s weekly Sunday Night Football pregame show, Football Night in America. The Dungy’s live in Tampa and are involved in many initiatives such as the Dungy Family Foundation, All Pro Dad and Basket of Hope.

They share the below 8 Core principles of an Uncommon Marriage, along with suggested reading and key Bible verses in the Appendix of the book.

  1. Look to the Bible as your guidebook and to Christ as the living example for your marriage
  2. Stay in sync spiritually
  3. Manage expectations and appreciate your differences
  4. Work as a team
  5. Practice committed love
  6. Communicate well and often
  7. Don’t run away from conflict
  8. Support each other in serving others

A related resource available is The Uncommon Marriage Adventure: A Daily Journey to Draw You Closer to God and Each Other by Tony Dungy and Lauren Dungy.

Core ChristianityCore Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story by Michael Horton. Zondervan. 192 pages. 2016
****

The purpose of this new book by Westminster Seminary California professor and theologian Michael Horton is to help the reader understand the reason for their hope as a Christian so that they can invite others into the conversation.  He wants believers to know what they believe and why, a phrase those familiar with Horton will have heard often on his long-running radio program The White Horse Inn. 

Horton, who has also written larger works of theology (The Christian Faith and Pilgrim Theology), offers an apologetic or defense, for the Christian faith, covering the essential and basic beliefs that all Christians share. It is written in an easily understandable manner, and as such, could be read by a relatively new believer. It is theologically spot-on, as you would expect from Horton.

Horton begins by asking the question why is doctrine important? Why can’t we just love Jesus? For the framework for the book, he uses the following “four “D’s”:

  • Drama
  • Doctrine
  • Doxology
  • Discipleship

He writes that oftentimes we hear Christians tell their story and how God is a part of it. But that’s an incorrect way of looking at things. It‘s not so much that He is a part of our stories, but that we are a part of His.

Horton writes that Jesus is God, not just a good teacher. He uses the famous C.S. Lewis quote about Jesus being either a liar, lunatic or Lord. He then tackles the difficult subject of the Trinity. As he discusses the character of God, he states that God is both good and great. He writes that we communicate with God in prayer and worship and He speaks to us in the Scriptures, which contains the Promise (Old Testament) and the Fulfillment (New Testament).

He writes about creation and Adam’s fall as our representative. He looks at covenants and the Gospel as he helps us make sense of God’s Story from Genesis to Revelation. He provides a helpful overview of the Old Testament leading up to Jesus, as the fulfillment of the promise of Genesis 3:15. He looks at what a disciple is, the new creation, judgement and resurrection. He ends with a practical section on what believers should be doing until Jesus returns. He tells us that we should be serving in our various callings – at church, in the family, and in our jobs/vocations.

The book is solidly biblically-based, practical and easy to read. It would be a good one to read and discuss with another in a mentoring/discipleship setting.

Anxious for NothingAnxious for Nothing: God’s Cure for the Cares of Your Soul by John MacArthur.   David C. Cook. 3rd edition. 224 pages. 2012 
****

John MacArthur is one of my favorite authors. I read this book recently on vacation, at just the right time. It covers themes such as contentment and anxiety. A few days before reading it we had flown out of O’Hare International Airport under a tornado warning. All day long I had been extremely anxious about the impending inclement weather and whether we would be able to get out of the Midwest on the way to our destination on the East Coast.  I couldn’t relax and just trust that God was in control. Contentment is another item that I struggle with, so this book was just perfect for me.

MacArthur states that the wrong way to handle the stresses of life is to worry about them. He indicates that worry at any time is a sin because it violates the clear biblical command. He states that we allow our daily concerns to turn into worry, and therefore sin, when our thoughts become focused on changing the future instead of doing our best to handle our present circumstances.

MacArthur indicates that he titled the book Anxious for Nothing because he wants the reader to know that we can overcome our anxieties. Each chapter and a special appendix at the end (“Psalms for the Anxious”, excerpts from the Psalms which are especially intended to attack anxiety) provide the reader specific biblical ways we can do just that.

MacArthur states that when we worry, we in effect are saying that we can believe God for the greater gift and then stumble and not believe Him for the lesser one. He goes on to state that a lack of joy for the believer is a sin.

He looks at Matthew 6 as Jesus’ great statement on worry and Philippians 4 as the Apostle Paul’s primary writing on how to avoid anxiety.  He states that those passages are the most comprehensive portions of Scripture dealing with anxiety and therefore foundational to understanding how God feels about anxiety and why He feels that way.

MacArthur looks at prayer as the foremost way to avoid anxiety, followed by right thinking and action.  We are to approach God with a thankful attitude, which will release us from fear and worry. This is a tangible demonstration of trusting our situation to God’s sovereign control. We also need to demonstrate humility, as only from humility comes the ability to truly hand over all our cares to God.

MacArthur states that to do a comprehensive study on what Scripture says about anxiety, we need to examine what it says about living by faith. Hebrews 11 and 12 are the faith chapters of the Bible. Chapter 11 gives a general definition of faith and a slew of Old Testament examples.

Another weight of sin that entangles the believer says MacArthur is doubt. Paul states that our protection again doubt is to “take up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph. 6:16).

MacArthur writes that when we have a problem facing us that we don’t know how to solve, we need to remember to praise God.  Remembering who God is and what He has done glorifies Him and strengthens our faith. To help us do that, he recommends that we read through the Psalms the next time we’re tempted to worry.

In discussing the role of the church in helping with anxiety he writes that the church does well as a whole when the shepherds and the sheep bond together to correct the wayward, encourage the worried, hold up the weak, be patient with the wearisome, and repay the wicked with love. He also discusses God’s peace, stating that it is not subject to circumstances.

He discusses complaining about our circumstances, an area I can certainly improve in. He states that it is a sin to complain against God, and we must see our complaints as such. He states that we are really complaining about God when we complain about our circumstances.

He states that two roadblocks to contentment are grumbling and disputing. He writes that the quality of the believer’s life is the platform of our personal testimony. A murmuring, discontented, grumbling, griping, and complaining Christian is never going to have a positive influence on others. He encourages the reader to try to make it through today without complaining about something. We should make a note each time we do complain. Unfortunately, we may be surprised to discover it has become a way of life for us.

He writes that until we realize that God is sovereign, ordering everything for His own holy purposes and the ultimate good of those who love Him, we can’t help but be discontent. We need to realize any circumstance we face is only temporary. We need to learn to be content by not taking our earthly circumstances too seriously. He suggests that we be confident in God’s sovereign providence, and don’t allow your circumstances to trouble you.

I found this to be a very helpful and practical book that I can highly recommend.

Calvin's Sermons on JobSermons on Job: Chapters 1-14 by John Calvin. A New Translation by Rob Roy McGregor. Banner of Truth. 2015
****

In 1554-1554, John Calvin used the book of Job for his daily sermons at St. Pierre Cathedral in Geneva, Switzerland. Last May, we were able to visit that church while on vacation. In all, Calvin preached 159 sermons on the book. Each of these weekday sermons averaged just under an hour’s exposition of Scripture.

This new, and very readable translation of those sermons by Rob Roy McGregor, includes the first 59 of the 159 sermons. Having read some other translations of Calvin’s sermons, I was very pleased with the readability of this new translation and would commend this volume to you.

The Gospel According to DanielThe Gospel According to Daniel by Bryan Chapell. Baker Books 226 pages. 2014
****

Dr. Bryan Chapell was the President of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis during most of my time there. He wrote the notes for the book of Daniel in the Gospel Transformation Bible, and recently completed a preaching series on Daniel at Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois, where he is senior pastor. You can download the sermons from their website. Usually, a book based on a sermon series is published after the sermons are preached. In this instance, over a period of months, I enjoyed listening to the sermon of each chapter in Daniel, and then reading the corresponding chapter of this theologically rich book, which includes helpful, practical illustrations.

The author writes that he desires to help others see the presence of the gospel throughout all of Scripture. Some may not feel that Christ is present in the Old Testament. Dr. Chapell aims to show where every text stands in relation to the ultimate revelation of the person and/or work of Christ.

He tells us that in the first half of the book of Daniel (largely biographical), we are tempted to make Daniel the object of our worship (“be like Daniel”). But by doing so, we neglect Daniel’s own message that God is the hero. The second half of the book which contains prophetic content can also lead to error if we make Daniel primarily the subject of our debates of end-times issues. Again, the author tells us, that if we do that we neglect Daniel’s message that God will rescue his people from the miseries of their sin by the work of the Messiah.

The author skillfully leads the reader through both the well-known biographical first half of the book and also the sometimes hard to understand prophetic second half. I thoroughly enjoyed studying the wonderful book of Daniel with Dr. Chapell and highly recommend his book to you.

OnwardOnward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel by Russell Moore. B&H Books. 240 pages. 2015.
****

Russell Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is one of the leading young voices in evangelicalism today. In this important book, one of my favorites for 2015, he writes that the shaking of American culture isn’t a sign that God has given up on American Christianity. Rather, it may be a sign that God is rescuing American Christianity from itself. Moore is optimistic, indicating that pessimism is for losers. He admits that the American church faces difficulties, but also unprecedented opportunities. He writes that the message of the Kingdom is to “Make way for the coming of the Lord”. He states that now is the time for the church to reclaim its mission.

He writes that our culture was at one time more closely aligned with Christian values, if not necessarily the Christian Gospel. We are no longer the “Moral Majority”, if we ever really were. Our beliefs (sexual ethics, for example), are now very strange to our culture. He admits that in the short term we have lost the culture war on sexual and family issues. He states that we were never given a mission by Christ to promote values (as in “family values”), but to speak instead of sin, righteousness and the judgment of Christ and His Kingdom.

He writes that we must put our priorities where Jesus put them. He states that increasingly, the American culture doesn’t see Christianity as the real America. But the church needs to be salt and light to the culture. A worldly church, or an “almost gospel” is no good for this world. He states that the Kingdom of God should shape our vision of what and who matters, indicating that both left and right wing Christians can equally distort the Gospel. He writes of balancing evangelism and discipleship with justice, indicating that human dignity is about the Kingdom of God.

He writes about Jesus being a “gentle steamroller” as he called people to repentance. He discusses a manner of culture engagement that involves convictional kindness. He states that kindness should not be confused with niceness. Kindness doesn’t avoid conflict. Rather, it engages conflict with a goal of reconciliation.

The book lays out a plan for engaging a culture that is not only indifferent to Christianity, but at times openly hostile to it. It is written with convictional kindness and with a pastor’s heart. Highly recommended.

a more perfect union by ben carsonA More Perfect Union: What We the People Can Do to Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties by Ben Carson, MD with Candy Carson. Sentinel. 256 pages. 2015.
****

In this new book, Dr. Ben Carson provides a layman’s introduction to the Constitution. As I had not studied the Constitution for many years, I found it to be very helpful. Throughout the book Carson weaves in stories from his own experiences and also uses it as an opportunity to share his opinions about how to improve the future of the United States.

Carson writes that unlike many of the lengthy and complex bills that are passed by Congress today, the Constitution, not counting the twenty-seven amendments, is less than seventeen pages long. He states that one of the outstanding features of the Constitution is its lack of details. He states that it is also relatively simple and easy to understand, simple enough to be understood by anyone with a basic education.

Dr. Carson states that many Americans have never read the Constitution and are unaware of the liberties it guarantees and the procedures it has set up. He shares about the history of the Constitution and about its framers. He tells the reader about the Constitution’s governing principles as they are laid out in its preamble and the structure of the Constitution. Most importantly, he states, the reader will learn what they can do to defend it.

He suggests that every American memorize the preamble and keep its principles in mind while voting, thinking that if we elect only officials who understand the Constitution and its goals, America’s future will be safe. He writes that once we understand the Constitution and our rights, we must be vigilant to make sure our leaders uphold those rights.

He ends the book with “A Call to Action”. He asks “Are we willing to stand up against the PC police? Are we willing to educate ourselves and others? We the people must be knowledgeable about our Constitution and brave enough to act upon our values, principles, and convictions.”

The complete text of the Constitution is included in the Appendix.

Although this could be looked at as a dry and boring book, I found it to be anything but that. Read this book and become familiar with what the Constitution really says. I believe it will be time well spent.

Killing ReaganKilling Reagan: The Violent Assault that Changed a Presidency by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. Henry Holt and Co. 320 pages. 2015
****

I have enjoyed all of the books in the Killing series by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard – Lincoln, Kennedy, Jesus, Patton and now Reagan. The books are written in the form of a fast moving novel, and until this book Bill O’Reilly had done a wonderful job reading the audiobook edition. For this book he reads only a brief Prologue and Last Word.

What you think of this book will most likely be based on how you think the authors support their thesis that John Hinkley Jr’s attempted assassination of the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, then 70 years old, in 1981 could have played a pivotal role in his mental decline. Reagan died at age 93 in 2004, after ten years of decline as a result of Alzheimer’s disease.

Reagan graduated from nearby Eureka College in 1932, and about once a week I see the sign on Interstate 74 about twenty minutes from my home, touting that Eureka College was Reagan’s college home. As they do with the previous books, they not only tell us Reagan’s life story, but also that of Hinkley until their lives converge in 1981.

Reagan was a Hollywood actor who married Jane Wyman. Her career took off and his went into decline. They had a daughter (Maureen) and adopted Michael. The couple would lose an infant daughter (Christine). Wyman’s filing for divorce traumatized Reagan and led to much bad behavior on his part with many women.

Reagan increasingly showed an interest in political activism, crusading against communism in Hollywood. The authors tells us about a bitter Screen Actors Guild (SAG) strike, in which communists wanted to take over Hollywood.

Reagan would marry a pregnant (with Patti) Nancy Davis, an actress, who had lived a life of privilege. Throughout the book Nancy is portrayed as controlling, leading her (and the president’s) lives by the guidance of astrologers. The Reagan family and children are portrayed as dysfunctional.

Reagan was a Democrat who voted Republican for the first time in the 1960 Presidential election. He despised John F. Kennedy, even going forward with a planned dinner party the evening that JFK was assassinated. He would deliver a landmark speech for Barry Goldwater titled “A Time to Choose” that put him on the political map. He would later serve two terms as the Governor of California.

The authors speak much of Reagan’s strong relationship with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who ironically would end her life in mental decline. Her video-taped message at Reagan’s funeral in 2004 was her last major public address.

Reagan challenged Gerald Ford for the GOP nomination in 1976, losing a close fight. He made a powerful speech at the convention, leading, according to the authors, many Republicans to realize that they had picked the wrong candidate.

John Hinkley was obsessed with Jodie Foster who appeared in the 1976 movie Taxi Driver, which he watched numerous times. He stalked Foster during her freshman year at Yale University in 1980-1981.  

Hinkley had planned to kill President Jimmy Carter to impress Foster. He joined the Nazi Party and was arrested in an airport when they found guns. But amazingly the judge let him off with a $50 fine and court costs. He was a free man, and didn’t show up on any FBI lists of those who posed a threat to the president. Reagan was elected to the first of two presidential terms in 1980, when he defeated incumbent Jimmy Carter.

Hinkley didn’t know whether he would kill himself or Reagan to demonstrate his love for Foster. As it turns out, he was able to fire six shots from just ten feet away, hitting Reagan, and three others. Reagan at first didn’t realize he had been shot. He thought his ribs had been broken when thrown into the car. He actually walked into the hospital and then collapsed and passed out. As it turned out he nearly died, and lost half of his blood supply. Hinkley would be found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Prior to the assassination attempt the Reagans rarely went to church. He would draw closer to God after surviving the attempt.

The authors discuss Reagan’s two terms in the White House, with successes and controversies. They talk about an assessment that he was not mentally fit to be president and the possible need to invoke the 25th Amendment. They write that the White House was out of control with chaos at all levels. They write of Reagan not being engaged in permanent decline and visibly frail, napping frequently. They write that Nancy was considered to be the most powerful person in the White House (the authors give her credit for the firing of Don Regan, the president’s Chief of Staff), and consulting astrologist Joan Quigley in San Francisco regarding the president’s schedule.

After leaving the White House, Reagan was thrown from a horse in 1989 which could have accelerated his Alzheimer’s disease. He attended Richard Nixon’s funeral in 1994, where he was seen to be in physical and mental decline. This would be his last major public appearance. After that, it was primarily the family who saw him, outside of his caregivers. At the end, he didn’t recognize Nancy, his wife of 50 years, who is still alive at the age of 94.

The book ends with an update on all of the major characters in the book.

I enjoyed the book, but was not fully convinced by the authors that the failed assassination attempt started Reagan’s mental decline.

Everyday PrayersEveryday Prayers by Scotty Smith: 365 Days to a Gospel-Centered Faith. Baker Books. 386 pages. 2011.
****

I’ve enjoyed the writings of Scotty Smith since reading his first book Objects of His Affection. I was blessed to have two classes with him at Covenant Theological Seminary a few years ago. Since its release, this book and his daily prayers you can receive via email have been an encouragement to me.

He writes that this is a book that had been writing him, as he documented an entire year’s worth of his longings, struggles, and hopes. He tells us that he started by opening up his Bible, turning on his laptop, and began praying through a few of his favorite verses. Writing his words as he prayed forced him into a slower pace and helped his concentration. After a few weeks this became a new discipline for him that he continues to this day as he “prays the gospel”.

He began to share some of his prayers with friends who were going through some of the same heartaches and difficulties as he was. As the word got out, others began asking for the prayers. He then starting sharing with his church, and started a small distribution list, which has now grown to thousands of people around the world.

He writes that the book is “a whole year’s worth of groaning and growing in grace—365 prayers that reflect a lot of gospel lived through a lot of stories and circumstances, joys and sorrows, theological propositions and ongoing questions.”

One of my final assignments in seminary was to revisit some of my previous classes and assignments. My favorite class in seminary was Scotty’s “Disciplines of Grace”. One evening in early 2014 we enjoyed a wonderful phone call looking back at the class. As our time was ending, Scotty asked “Can I pray for us?” So I was able to hear him pray just as you will through this wonderful book. Why not join me in making this book part of your daily devotional reading in 2016. Each reading/prayer takes only a few minutes, and you will be amazed how many times they address something that you too have been dealing with.

The Valley of VisionThe Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions. Edited by Arthur Bennett. The Banner of Truth Trust. 223 pages. 1975
****

Arthur Bennett (1915-1994), was an English-born minister, tutor, and author who loved to study the Puritans. He has drawn the prayers in this much loved modern-day spiritual classic from what he refers to as the largely forgotten deposit of Puritan spiritual exercises, meditations and aspirations. He states that this book of Puritan prayers has a unity not often found in similar works. The title of the book comes from Isaiah 22:1 “The oracle concerning the valley of vision….” The book was first published in 1975. The research for this book took years to complete, most likely done in the mid-1960’s through the early 1970’s.

Bennett writes that the Puritan Movement was a religious phenomenon of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but its influence continued at least to the time of the great Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–92), who may be regarded as the last of the great Puritans. Bennett composed the first prayer himself. He tells us the authors and books he is quoting – from the works of Thomas Shepard, Thomas Watson, Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, William Williams, Philip Doddridge, William Romaine, David Brainerd, Augustus Toplady, Christmas Evans, William Jay, Henry Law and Charles Haddon Spurgeon – but he doesn’t tell us which works or author is associated with each individual prayer.

Bennett’s desire is that the publication of these prayers will help to introduce people of today to the Puritans and their writings. It is a wonderful resource to read in daily devotions, which is how I use it. Bennett states that the book is not intended to be read as a prayer manual. He writes that the soul learns to pray by praying. Thus, the prayers should be used as aspiration units, with the Puritan’s prayers becoming springboards for our own prayers. A final section of the book has been added for occasions of corporate worship.

This is a wonderful resource that I cannot recommend too highly to include as a part of your daily worship.

Then Sings My SoulThen Sings My Soul Special Edition: 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories by Robert Morgan. Thomas Nelson. 310 pages. 2010
****

Many young people in the church today are not aware of the wonderful hymns that preceded the praise and worship songs they sing today. We can be thankful to Robert J. Morgan for this book (and the additional volumes that followed this one) in which he introduces the reader to the stories of 150 of the greatest hymns.

I read this book several years ago and was blessed by it. In 2016, my wife (who loves the great hymns of the faith) and I will use this as part of our daily devotional reading. I plan to read the individual selection, which includes a scripture verse, and a story about the hymn. Then, my wife will sing the hymn, using the music and lyrics included. It should be a wonderful addition to our family worship time.

 

Reformation Study BibleReformation Study Bible (ESV)
****

The Reformation Study Bible first appeared in 1995 as the New Geneva Study Bible. It was initially released in the New King James Version (NKJV), and later in the English Standard Version (ESV). Earlier this year a significantly updated and revised edition of the Reformation Study Bible (ESV) was released. The updated and revised edition in the NKJV is due to be released in February, 2016.

The updated version includes more than 20,000 new, revised, or expanded study notes from 75 distinguished scholars. There are new theological notes from R.C. Sproul, the General Editor, new topical articles and expanded introductions to each book. In addition, historical creeds and confessions, new maps, concordance, etc. are included.

I read nearly all of my books on my Kindle device. The e-book edition of The Reformation Study Bible was recently released. It includes user-friendly navigation, which allows the reader to easily move between the text and the study notes. Like any other e-book on your Kindle, you can adjust your font size, add highlights and notes. This is the Bible I will use for my daily reading.

New Mohler bookWe Cannot Be Silent: Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, and the Very Meaning of Right and Wrong by R. Albert Mohler Jr. 256 pages, Thomas Nelson, 2015.
****

Albert Mohler, the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, and one of the leading voices in evangelicalism today, has written a very important book regardless of where the reader stands on these issues. He states that we are now witnesses to a revolution that is sweeping away a sexual morality and a definition of marriage that has existed for thousands of years. He writes about that moral revolution, how it happened and what it means for us, for our churches, and for our children.

He takes us through the moral revolution and its vast impact. He states that any consideration of the eclipse of marriage in the last century must take into account four massive developments: birth control and contraception, divorce, advanced reproductive technologies, and cohabitation.

He includes a very interesting chapter on the transgender revolution and spends a chapter asking what the Bible really says about sex. I found the chapter on the real and urgent challenges to religious liberty to be of particular interest, recognizing many of the recent examples from culture he writes about. He also includes a very helpful “Question and Answer” section, in which he looks at 30 questions pertaining to the moral revolution. He concludes the book with a “Word to the Reader”, written in response to the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage.

Mohler writes that when it comes to marriage and morality, Christians cannot be silent—not because they are morally superior, but because they know that God has a better plan for humanity than we would ever devise for ourselves. He wrote the book in the hope that the church will be found faithful, even in the midst of the storm.

This is a well-researched and written book. Mohler states that we are facing nothing less than a comprehensive redefinition of life, love, liberty, and the very meaning of right and wrong. He has covered some of this information in his excellent daily podcast “The Briefing”, which features an analysis of the leading news headlines and cultural conversations from a Christian worldview. I can’t think of a more important book that I have read this year and highly recommend it.

Kevin Halloran BookWord + Life: 20 Reflections on Prayer, the Christian Life, and the Glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ by Kevin Halloran. Word + Life. 79 pages. 2015
****

Over the past year or so I’ve become familiar with Kevin Halloran’s ministry, through his blog and the articles he has written for other blogs. This, his first book, was intended as he writes “To do what a ‘Greatest Hits’ record does for a band: (1) to introduce new people to the best of the blog and (2) catch current fans up on quality content they have missed.” His heartbeat for the book for “God to plant us beside streams of living water, and for our roots to soak up the encouragement and hope the Scriptures offer us in Christ.”

The articles included flow from Halloran’s personal Scripture reading, struggles in faith, struggles in life, and professional work with both Unlocking the Bible (a radio and online ministry) and Leadership Resources International (a missions organization that equips pastors to faithfully exposit the Scriptures).

Similar to the prayers from The Valley of Vision, Halloran includes a few prayers mixed in with the articles adding to the devotional experience.

I highlighted many passages in my copy of the book. As I revisit those passages they include themes of prayer, anxiety, faith and work, materialism and contentment, battling sin, how Jesus relates to the Old Testament, social media, leadership, persecution and how to read the Psalms.

The author also includes a few recommended resources at the end of the book, which can be read in one sitting, or devotionally, reading one article a day. I highly recommend this short book as an introduction to Kevin Halloran and his ministry. He is a young man who is already doing great things for the Kingdom.

Rejoicing in ChristRejoicing in Christ by Michael Reeves. IVP Academic. 135 pages. 2015
****

Michael Reeves writes that most of our Christian problems and errors of thought come about by forgetting or marginalizing Christ. As a result, this book aims for something deeper than a new technique or a call to action. He calls for us to consider Christ so that he might become more central for us, that we might know him better, treasure him more and enter into his joy.

I thoroughly enjoyed this short, but theologically rich book about Christ. Reeves writes that the Christian life and Christian theology must begin and end with Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Goal. This is a book that you can use in your devotional reading. It contains several short meditations on many aspects of Christ (divinity, humanity, life, death, resurrection, return, etc.). Among the many things I appreciated about this book were his writings on sonship, Christ being the second (or last) Adam, Christ’s loving relationship with the Father, our union with Christ, and the marriage between the church (bride of Christ) and our groom (Christ).

I was not familiar with Reeves until I saw that he was one of the speakers at the 2016 Ligonier National Conference in February. I read this book and am glad that I did as it helped me to know and love Christ even more. He complements his meditations on Christ with historical artwork depicting Jesus, which stimulates the mind as well as the heart. This is one of my favorite books of the year.

prayerPrayer: A Biblical Perspective by Eric J. Alexander. Banner of Truth. 106 pages. 2012.
****

Eric Alexander is a wonderful preacher who I was blessed to hear at a few theology conferences in the past. His chief concern in this short book is to remind Christians that prayer is fundamental, and not supplemental, both in the individual and in the corporate lives of God’s people. This book has the feel of individual sermons that were delivered on prayer put into book form.

Alexander writes that because prayer defies definition, the Bible doesn’t give us a comprehensive definition of prayer. Because the reader would like a definition however, he uses the words of John Calvin, who in his commentary on Isaiah says, ‘Prayer is nothing else than the opening up of our heart before God’.

Alexander shares the following elements of true prayer from the scriptures:

  1. Entering into God’s presence through the access obtained for us in Christ’s sacrificial death.
  2. Worshiping and adoring God for all that he is.
  3. Praising and thanking God for all that he does.
  4. Humbling ourselves before God because of what we are, and confessing our sin and failure.
  5. Supplicating at God’s throne and petitioning him for the good things for which we are totally dependent on him.
  6. Intercession for others.

In this book, Alexander looks at a number of examples of prayer in scripture, such as:

  • Jesus teaching the disciples about prayer. (Matthew 6). Alexander writes that despite us calling this the “Lord’s Prayer”, this is not a prayer that Jesus ever prayed, or indeed could pray. The prayer is not intended to be repeated verbatim by us. It is rather a pattern for prayer, to teach us to pray ourselves.
  • Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:7-12). Alexander writes “Many students of the Sermon on the Mount have wondered whether we are intended to see a distinction between these three precepts—ask, seek, knock—or whether we should think of them as just a repetition of the same idea. Personally, I do not think they are a mere repetition. More likely they seem to be an intensification with a different focus”.
  • The priority of the Apostles (Acts 6:3-4). Alexander writes that if we are going to be apostolic in the pattern of our church life, we need to adopt the same priorities they had, devoting themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. Alexander writes that “It is my deepest conviction that God is calling his church in the twenty-first century to re-echo this holy determination of the first century apostles.”
  • The prayer life of Paul. Alexander states that the two dominant features of Paul’s ministry were prayer and preaching. He would put them in that order because of the apostolic priorities in Acts 6:4.
  • The prayer of a penitent Sinner (Psalm 51). This psalm touches upon mercy, cleansing, sin, forgiveness and restoration.
  • Thirsting for God (Psalm 63). There are several psalms which express in similar terms the psalmist’s thirst for God. Alexander writes that the ultimate reason for prayerlessness is a lack of desire for God.
  • The Intercessory Ministry of the Holy Spirit. Alexander writes that perhaps the most convincing evidence of how deeply God desires that we should learn to pray, is that all three persons of the Godhead—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—combine together to persuade us to take up the ministry of prayer.
  • Corporate Prayer. Prayer is the duty of the church corporately, not just of Christians individually. Alexander sees it highly significant that today one of the chief marks of the church’s malaise is the poverty of prayer meetings in the evangelical churches of the western world.

Alexander then looks at difficulties related to prayer, breaking them down into the categories of common, spiritual and practical difficulties.

He ends the book with an epilogue on prayer and preaching. He writes that prayer and preaching belong together in the mind and wisdom and purpose of God. The prayerless preacher is a contradiction in terms, as is the prayerless church.

Although short, this is an excellent book on prayer and highly recommended.

The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoungThe Hole in Our Holiness Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness by Kevin DeYoung. Crossway. 160 pages. 2012. Audiobook read by Adam Verner.
****

Over the past few years I’ve often pondered who would be the leaders in Reformed theology in the coming years. After all, R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur are in their mid-70’s and John Piper is 69. Sinclair Ferguson, Alistair Begg, Derek Thomas and Tim Keller are in their 60’s. Albert Mohler and Michael Horton are in their 50’s. Certainly Kevin DeYoung, who already has written several quality books at age 37, is in the mix to be among our future leaders, along with Matt Chandler and younger leaders such as Trip Lee.

I recently re-listened to this book, which was the first of DeYoung’s books I had read when it was first published in 2012. Some of the content in this book was similar to his excellent message “Do Not Love the World” from the recent Ligonier National Conference

DeYoung, who does an excellent job of using Scripture throughout the book to reinforce his points, writes that we tend to be neglectful of the pursuit of holiness, even though Jesus expects obedience from us. God saved us so that we may be holy. To be holy means to be separate, to be set apart from what is common. Holiness is a key theme in the Bible. In general, however, a concern for holiness is not apparent in most of our lives. Holiness is not an option for the believer. However, DeYoung points out that many Christians have given up on sanctification, a theological term for growing in our holiness.

Christians should not even have a hint of immorality in their lives. We are to be holy as God is holy. (1 Peter 1:15). But DeYoung writes that there is a gap between our love for the Gospel and our love for godliness.

Our pursuit of holiness does not diminish the fact that we are saved by faith alone. Justification is the root while holiness is the fruit. We should not confuse justification and sanctification. We shouldn’t confuse DeYoung’s discussion about personal holiness for legalism.

DeYoung discusses what holiness is (to be like God) and what it is not (worldliness). He discusses having a good or clean conscious and illustrates that with practical illustrations about boundaries in dating or the movies we watch.

He discusses the role of the law in the life of the believer and the so-called lordship salvation (we are saved by grace so can’t we live as we would like?). He states that we can please God, but only because of what He has done for us. Whenever we trust and obey God is pleased.

DeYoung writes that all sins are offensive to God, but some sins are worse than others. He asks if born again Christians can displease God and then answers by indicating that God is displeased when His people sin, and as a result He disciplines us.

The author looks at how the Holy Spirit works in our holiness and how the Gospel aids us in our holiness. We shouldn’t neglect the importance of our effort and work. We shouldn’t “Let go and let God”.

DeYoung includes a helpful section on union with Christ. It reminded me of one of my favorite professors, Dr. Phillip Douglas at Covenant Seminary, who covered this topic in his Spiritual and Ministry Formation course. DeYoung writes that the Christian life is a fight, but if you are in Christ, it is a fight you will win.

He offers helpful insights in discussing sexual immorality, talking about what we are doing and seeing. In today’s sex saturated culture sexual impurity seems normal to us. This is not so in the Scriptures. The sexually immoral are mentioned as not inheriting the kingdom of God in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. DeYoung defines sexual immorality as any sexual activity outside of marriage between a man and a woman. Despite what our culture says, God says our bodies belong to Him.

Along with union with Christ is communion with Him. John Owen says that communion is mutual relations between us and God. We abide by obeying and obey as we abide. We commune with God by praying.

DeYoung closes the book by discussing the role of repentance in the pursuit of holiness. He states that it is more important where we are going than where we are now.

Throughout this helpful book DeYoung mentions the Puritans often. Other books that I have read and would recommend to you around this subject are R.C. Sproul’s Pleasing God and Jerry Bridges The Pursuit of Holiness.

Finally, enjoy this article from Tony Reinke of Desiring God featuring twenty helpful quotes from the book: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/20-quotes-from-the-hole-in-our-holiness

A Praying LifeA Praying Life: Connecting to God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller. NavPress. 288 pages. 2009
****

On a recent trip to Europe I had a providential encounter with Paul Miller, this book’s author, and his wife Jill, in a cable car high above Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. I had previously read this book a few years ago, and recently decided to read it again, the third book on the subject of prayer that I’ve read this summer. Our church had hosted one of Miller’s A Praying Life seminars a few years ago, in which this material was covered.

Reading this book gives you the feel of sitting down with the author to talk about prayer as he shares many interesting and helpful stories – biblical stories and those about his family, particularly about his special needs daughter Kim – to illustrate his teaching on prayer.

The book is comprised of thirty-two chapters in five parts. In part one he writes about praying like a child. In part two he writes that the opposite of a child-like spirit is a cynical spirit. He shares six cures for cynicism from Jesus. In part three we learn how to petition God. I enjoyed his section about what to do about Jesus’ extravagant promises about prayer here. In part four we learn about living in the Father’s story. Part five was very practical, with the author discussing how he uses prayer cards and prayer journals. For example, he prefers a prayer card for each individual, feeling it is easier to use than a prayer list, which I use. He shares that he sorts his cards by categories such as family, work and church. I found this to be very helpful.

A few of the things I wrote down while reading the book were:

  • The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. The gospel frees us to ask what is on our hearts. We can’t do it on our own, we need to pray.
  • Helplessness is how the gospel works.
  • God taught him to pray through suffering.
  • Most Christians are frustrated with their prayer lives.
  • What he describes as a praying life is one that is interconnected with the rest of our life.
  • Miller discusses how he parented through prayer and how he uses short and continuous prayers.
  • Learned desperation is at the heart of a praying life.
  • Should we pray for parking spaces?
  • God wants our material needs to draw us into our soul needs. To abide means to include Him in every aspect of our lives.
  • Pray to change your children’s hearts.
  • He excesses caution about systems in prayer.
  • To discern when God is speaking to us, we need to keep the Spirit and the Word together.

This is a book to savor, and not rush through. It’s also a book that you will benefit from reading again and again. Highly recommended.

Adoption by Russell MooreAdoption: What Joseph of Nazareth Can Teach Us About This Counterculture Choice by Russell Moore. Crossway. 64 pages. 2015
****

This short book was first published as Chapter 3: “Joseph of Nazareth vs. Planned Parenthood: What’s at Stake When We Talk about Adoption,” in Moore’s 2009 book Adopted for Life.

Moore asks what it would mean if our churches and families were known as the people who adopt babies—and toddlers, and children, and teenagers. What if Christians were known, once again, as the people who take in orphans, and make of them beloved sons and daughters? He writes that all of us have a stake in the adoption issue, because Jesus does.

Moore tells us that there’s rarely much room in the inn of the contemporary Christian imagination for Joseph, especially among conservative Protestants like him. But, he tells us, Joseph serves as a model to follow as we see what’s at stake in the issue of adoption because Joseph, after all, is an adoptive father. Moore writes that as Joseph images the Father of the fatherless, he shows us how adoption is more than charity. It’s spiritual warfare.

Moore writes that the demonic powers (Pharaoh, Herod and Planned Parenthood) hate babies because they hate Jesus. When they destroy “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40, 45), the most vulnerable among us, they’re destroying a picture of Jesus himself, of the child delivered by the woman who crushes their head (Gen. 3:15). Moore states, it’s easy to shake our heads in disgust at Pharaoh or Herod or Planned Parenthood. But it’s not as easy to see the ways in which we ourselves often have a Pharaoh-like view of children rather than a Christ-like view. Moore writes that the protection of children isn’t charity, its spiritual warfare. He states that all of us, as followers of Christ, are called to protect children.

Moore writes that an orphan-protecting adoption culture is countercultural—and always has been. An adoption culture in our churches advances the cause of life, even beyond the individual lives of the children adopted. Imagine if Christian churches were known as the places where unwanted babies become beloved children.

Moore states that if we follow in the way of Joseph, perhaps we’ll see a battalion of new church-sponsored clinics for pregnant women in crisis situations. Perhaps we’ll train God-called women in our churches to counsel confused young women, counselors able and equipped to provide an alternative to the slick but deadly propaganda of the abortion profiteers. If we walk in Joseph’s way, perhaps we’ll see pastors who will prophetically call on Christians to oppose the death culture by rescuing babies and children through adoption.

Moore writes that although Planned Parenthood thinks “Choice on Earth” is the message of Christmas, we know better, or at least we should. He encourages us to follow the footsteps of the other man at the manger, the quiet one.

Openness Unhindered by Rosaria ButterfieldOpenness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. Crown & Covenant Publications. 2015. 206 pages  
****

The title of the book comes from the last verse of the book of Acts. The author begins the book by briefly telling her story, which she describes as messy, for those not familiar with her, or who hadn’t read her first book, 2012’s Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith.

She writes that sin and sex go together like peanut butter and chocolate, and that sexual sin is a fruit of pride and lust. One of the audiences she writes the book for are those Christians with unwanted homosexual desires. She writes that she is willing to offend someone for the sake of their soul.

As she writes the book Rosaria is a 52 year- old pastor’s wife who homeschools their younger children. She writes with kindness, grace and humility, indicating that she has more questions than answers to share. The book is theologically sound, as she quotes from respected authors and theologians throughout.

Rosaria includes many topics in this book including our union with Christ, pride, repentance, our identity in Christ and sexual orientation, sanctification, original sin and temptation. She writes that temptation is not a sin in itself. Christ was tempted, but did not sin. We cross the line from temptation to sin. She offers some helpful thoughts from John Owen’s book on indwelling sin, that we should:

  • Starve sin
  • Call sin what it is.
  • Extinguish indwelling sin.
  • Vivify righteousness and walk in the Spirit.

In discussing the concept of sexual orientation, she writes that it is unstable, changing, and harmful to believers who struggle with unwanted homosexual desires. The concept was developed by Freud to separate sexuality from its biblical view. Freud was influenced by romanticism, which saw experience as truth. He rejected the concept of original sin.

Rosaria writes that her view is that marriage by God’s design is between a man and a woman. In discussing what it means to be gay, she states that the meaning of the word has changed over time. She addresses what it means to say that you are a gay Christian given that gay is a term of identity. She helps to clarify terms that we hear all the time such as sexual attraction, sexual affection, sexual orientation and sexual identity. She asks whether sexual sin is a moral or physical problem.

In a particularly interesting part of the book she shares correspondence between her and Rebecca, a friend who identifies themselves as a gay Christian. Rosaria believes using the word gay to modify Christian dishonors God. She writes that using wording such as “living chastity with unwanted homosexual desires” is a better way of describing Rebecca than is gay Christian.

Toward the end of the book Rosaria has a helpful discussion on hospitality and neighboring. I particularly took interest in her discussion about the art of neighboring, where she and her husband placed picnic tables and chairs in their front yard to encourage hospitality. Thursday nights at their home is a prayer open house and a neighborhood prayer walk. She also addresses the importance of church membership vows.

The Epilogue allows her to provide an update on her life since the time Secret Thoughts was written, including the national attention that same-sex marriage has received in the United States. This is an important book on issues that are important in our culture today, and I highly recommend it. I also recommend Rosaria’s first book Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith.

If you are not familiar with Rosaria’s story, watch her message “Repentance and Renewal” from the 2015 Ligonier Ministries National Conference here.

Listen to Carl Trueman, Aimee Byrd and Todd Pruitt discuss the book on their Mortification of Spin podcast.

Thanks to Matt Smethurst of the Gospel Coalition for compiling these helpful 20 quotes from the book.

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A Well Ordered ChurchA Well-Ordered Church: Laying a Foundation for a Vibrant Church by William Boekestein and Daniel R Hyde. Evangelical Press. 190 pages. 2015
***

This book is written by two pastors about organizing and running a Reformed church based on principles from Scripture and Reformed Confessions. It is well-written, and will be most helpful to pastors and elders as they read and discuss how to be a “well-ordered church”.

The authors state that the goal of the book is to bring us back to the basics of ecclesiology, or, the biblical doctrine of the church. They include helpful discussion questions and resources for further reading at the end of each chapter. The discussion questions will aid in applying the information included in the chapter, and will be helpful as church leadership teams discuss the book.

As an elder in a Presbyterian Church in American (PCA) church, I read this book with particular interest. The authors organized the book into four categories:

  1. Identity. What is the church in general? Who are we as a church in particular?
  2. Authority. On a practical level, from whom do we as a church receive our marching orders? How does a church make decisions?
  3. Ecumenicity. How should one church relate to other churches?
  4. Activity. What is our mission? What should we as a church be doing?

As I read the book I was mentally comparing how we organize and run our church with what the authors were saying. A few thoughts that I found particularly helpful or challenging were the following:

  • Do the pastors, elders, and deacons regularly visit their members to check up on their spiritual and physical well-being?
  • A well-ordered church is a teaching church, a worshiping church, a witnessing church, and a repenting church.
  • Worship is the goal of the church’s mission.
  • A current trend is to allow contemporary culture rather than Scripture to determine the manner of the church’s worship. Ironically, God specifically warns against this.
  • The practice of removing children from the worship service is a relatively new invention reflective of our consumer-driven culture with its desire for choice and specialization.
  • Missionaries should not be accountable to a board or network but to the leaders of an organized church of Christ.
  • The priority of the mission of the church over that of para-church organizations should also impact the way congregants and congregations tithe. Honest para-church organizations tell their audience that their first responsibility is to give to the local church.
  • Unfortunately, for many churches and Christians, evangelism and missions is an appendix rather than a core component of their task.
  • Non-witnessing churches are definitely not well-ordered.
  • There are a million and one causes that your local church could be supporting; but our priority should be to fund ordained ministers planting churches. This means that our congregations need to be allocating a sizeable portion of our spending to foreign missions.
  • Many of us don’t witness because we lack a method.
  • The church is a reflection of God. When rebellion is permitted in the church of God, his reputation suffers.

The authors include an Appendix on Foundational Principles of Reformed Church Government.

I found this book to be helpful. As Michael Horton writes, all readers may not agree with everything presented in the book. However, where you don’t, you will be challenged from Scripture and historic Reformed Confessions as to why you might disagree.

The Expository Genius of John Calvin (A Long Line of Godly Men Series Book 1) by Steven J. LawsonThe Expository Genius of John Calvin (A Long Line of Godly Men Series Book 1) by Steven J. Lawson. Reformation Trust. 133 pages. 2007.
****

On a recent trip to Europe we stopped in Geneva for the afternoon and visited St. Peter’s Cathedral (Cathedrale St-Pierre) in the heart of Geneva’s Old Town, where John Calvin served for 25 years. Over the next two days in Paris I read this book, including a wonderful afternoon spent on a bench along the Seine River.

This book was the first in a series that examines the varied ministries of noted men from church history. Lawson states that Calvin “was a driving force so significant that his influence shaped the church and Western culture beyond that of any other theologian or pastor.”

Lawson writes that apart from the biblical authors themselves, Calvin stands today as the most influential minister of the Word of God the world has ever seen. He states that by overwhelming consent, he remains the greatest biblical commentator of all time.

Lawson begins the book with a brief biography of Calvin, whose father, a financial administrator for the Catholic bishop of the Noyon diocese, raised his son to enter the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church. When his father died, the 21-year-old Calvin moved back to Paris to pursue his first love, the study of literature, especially the classics. He later returned to Bourges, where he completed his legal studies and received his doctor of laws degree. It was while he was studying at Bourges that Calvin came in direct contact with the biblical truths of the Reformation.

Calvin went to Basel, Switzerland (1534-1536), and began writing his magnum opus, Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin’s Institutes would become the defining masterpiece of Protestant theology, according to Lawson the single most important book to be written during the Reformation.

Calvin was first appointed professor of sacred Scripture in Geneva, then, four months later, pastor of Saint Pierre Cathedral. Calvin and Farel immediately began working to reform the church in Geneva. Their attempts to fence the Lord’s Table by excommunication resulted in their banishment from the city in 1538.

Calvin went into exile to Strasbourg where he pastored a congregation of some five hundred French-speaking refugees in Strasbourg. He also taught the New Testament in the local theological institute, wrote his first commentary (on Romans), and published the second edition of the Institutes.

During these years in Strasbourg, Calvin also found a wife, Idelette Stordeur, a member of his congregation. An Anabaptist widow, she had a son and a daughter from her first marriage. They married in 1540, when Calvin was 31. Idelette would die of tuberculosis in 1549.

Meanwhile, the City Council of Geneva found itself in much struggle, and called for Calvin to return as the city’s pastor. Calvin re-entered the city on September 13, 1541, never to relocate again. In Geneva, he made his mark as the Reformed church leader and the Reformation’s brightest light.

Upon his return, Calvin hit the town preaching, reassuming his pulpit ministry precisely where he had left off three years earlier-in the very next verse of his earlier exposition.

The rest of the book has Lawson reviewing the distinctives of Calvin’s preaching. They are:

  1. Biblical authorityCathedrale St-Pierre
  2. Divine Presence
  3. Pulpit priority
  4. Sequential Exposition
  5. Diligent Mind
  6. Devoted heart
  7. Relentless will
  8. Direct beginning
  9. Extemporaneous delivery
  10. Scriptural context
  11. Stated theme
  12. Specific text
  13. Exegetical precision
  14. Literal interpretation
  15. Cross-references
  16. Persuasive reasoning
  17. Reasonable deductions
  18. Familiar wordsIMG_0096
  19. Vivid expressions
  20. Provocative questions.
  21. Simple Restatements
  22. Limited quotations
  23. Unspoken outline
  24. Seamless transitions
  25. Focused intensity
  26. Pastoral exhortation
  27. Personal examination
  28. Loving rebuke
  29. Polemic confrontation
  30. Succinct summation
  31. Pressing appeal
  32. Climatic prayer

The book concludes with two appendices:

Appendix A: John Calvin’s Verse Distribution for Sermon Series

Appendix B: John Calvin’s Unspoken Outline of Job 21:13-15 Organized by T. H. L. Parker

I have read several of the books in this series of short biographies (Luther, Owen, Whitefield, Spurgeon), and plan to read books on Tyndale, Knox, Watts and Edwards. I enjoyed this look at Calvin’s expository preaching, which will be most appreciated by those who preach the Word.

The Road to Character by David Brooks The Road to Character by David Brooks. Random House. 320 pages. 2015 Audiobook read by Arthur Morey with an introduction by David Brooks
***

I recently listened to an interview Eric Metaxas had with David Brooks, in which Brooks was identified as one of two conservative columnists at the New York Times. Hearing the interview convinced me to read this book. Brooks begins the book by saying that it’s an attempt to save his soul. In fact, one may wonder after reading the book if Brooks (who has been described as a cultural Jew), has indeed had a spiritual awakening as he talks of sin, holiness and that we are all ultimately saved by grace. He quotes Tim Keller and C.S. Lewis, among others in the books. But we don’t really know as he has said in recent interviews that he doesn’t talk about his faith in public. He has stated that he has a lot of questions, but hasn’t settled, indicating that “the shoots are too green and the grass too fragile.”

I’m very interested in the subject of character. I’ve often heard character defined as doing the right thing when nobody is watching. I like that definition and find it helpful. Brooks refers to character as “a set of dispositions, desires and habits that are slowly engraved during the struggle against your own weakness.”

Central to the book is what Brooks learned about Adam One and Adam Two from the 1965 book The Lonely Man of Faith by Rabbi Joseph B Soloveitchik. Adam One has what Brooks refers to as resume virtues, and wants to build, create, produce, win and achieve high status. Adam Two has eulogy virtues, those nice things people say about us at our funerals that enable us to do good and be good. Adam Two knows that in order to find yourself you have to lose yourself. Adam One seeks success in the world, while Adam Two is more committed to character and the inner life. These two Adams are always in conflict.

Brooks’ goal is the recovery of a “vast moral vocabulary and set of moral tools, developed over centuries and handed down from generation to generation”. He does this with mini-biographies of what he calls heroes of renunciation who are marked by selflessness, generosity and self-sacrifice. With each diverse individual – some I was familiar with and others not – he discusses a particular virtue such as humility, sacrifice, love, etc. He tells us about Frances Perkins, Dwight Eisenhower and his mother Ida, Dorothy Day, George Marshal, A. Philip Randolph, Mary Anne (aka George) Elliot, Augustine and Samuel Johnson. Brooks tells us that each had to go to humility on the road to character.

He ends with a striking contrast between NFL quarterbacks Johnny Unitas and Joe Namath, but then tells us that those changes didn’t come in the 1960’s or 1970’s as we might assume, but actually back in the late 1940’s and 1950’s.

I enjoyed Brooks’ discussion of vocation, quoting from Victor Frankl and Frederick Buechner, whom Jeff Goins also quoted from in his recent book The Art of Work. Brooks writes that a vocation is not a career, but rather a calling. In discussing how things have changed, he states that we used to ask what life wants from me. But we are asking a different question these days, asking what do I want from life?

He writes that sin is not talked about today, but that it is essential to the concept of character. Brooks defines sin as when we “screw” (not his word) things up. He refers to today’s culture as the “Big Me” culture and discusses how our culture has changed since World War II, including a changed definition of character.

As I was going through the book, enjoying his portraits of the above individuals, I wasn’t seeing a thread tying everything together. As I reflect back now I think he may be trying to tell us that there are many different roads to character that a person takes. Brooks writes that some of these individuals were saved by religion, some harmed by it and some had no use for it. He helpfully summarizes things at the end with what he calls the Crooked Timber, a 15-point humility code. The individuals Brooks looks at in the book were redeemed by their weakness. He writes that “we are all stumblers, and the beauty and meaning of life are in the stumbling.”

You Must ReadYou Must Read: Books That Have Shaped Our Lives. Various Authors. Banner of Truth. 304 pages. 2015
****

This book brings together more than thirty well-known Christian leaders and gives them the opportunity to talk about a Banner of Truth book that has made a lasting impact on their lives. The book is dedicated to Iain and Jean Murray, whose vision, dedication, ministry, and encouragement has undergirded the publication of every book selected.

As a book lover, and having read several books published by the Banner of Truth, this was a book that I loved. I was familiar with many of the contributors (R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Derek Thomas, Jerry Bridges, Mark Dever, Sinclair Ferguson, etc.), but many of the contributors were people I was not familiar with. Each shares a book that has made an impact on their lives, tells about the book and why it made such an impact.

The book is broken into 33 chapters. A few that I particularly enjoyed were:

  • What Is an Evangelical? Written by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones – Alistair Begg. Begg writes about reading this book with his elders early in his ministry at Parkside Church in Cleveland.
  • D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Vol. 1: The First Forty Years; Vol. 2: The Fight of Faith by Iain H. Murray – John MacArthur. This was my favorite chapter of the book. MacArthur writes “I had never encountered another pastor whose biblical convictions and philosophy of ministry rang so true with me. No pastor I had ever encountered so closely paralleled my own thinking about the church, the gospel, doctrine, conflict, cooperation, and especially preaching.”
  • The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended by Jonathan Edwards – R.C. Sproul. Sproul writes “I studied his classic work The Freedom of the Will in depth and found his arguments, especially on Romans 9, compelling and irrefutable. I fought him tooth and nail, but in the end, I was convinced that I had been teaching and believing what I wanted the Bible to say rather than what it actually said. To this day, I owe Edwards a huge debt of gratitude.”
  • Tracts and Letters of John Calvin – Ian Hamilton. Hamilton writes “It is in his Tracts and Letters that, perhaps most memorably, we see the heart of Calvin the pastor, and it was a large and capacious heart.” He also states that “No pastor more faithfully laboured to defend the sovereignty of God’s grace—not only for the sake of God’s glory but also for the good and security of his flock.”
  • Revival Year Sermons (1859) by C. H. Spurgeon – Stuart Olyott. Olyott writes “Spurgeon’s opinion was that ‘there is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.’”
  • The Glory of Christ by John Owen – Sinclair B. Ferguson. Ferguson writes “It is safe to say that he goes down deeper, stays down longer, and comes up with greater spiritual riches than can be found in the vast bulk of contemporary Christian literature.”

An Epilogue is included which looks at the books from three perspectives – from Latin America, the Philippines and from the Grey House, Edinburgh.

Two key verses for the Banner of Truth are:
Psalm 60:4 (which gave rise to their name): You have given a banner to those who fear you, that it may be displayed because of the truth.
And Psalm 127:1: Unless the Lord build the house, those who build it labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and got several recommendations for future reading.

A Loving LIfeA Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships by Paul E. Miller. Crossway. 176 pages. 2014.
****

A few weeks ago I providentially ran into Paul Miller and his wife on the Schilthorn Piz Gloria aerial cable car, the longest cable car system in the world while visiting Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. (See the article on our European vacation). I had read Paul’s book A Praying Life in the past and decided to read his latest book A Loving Life. And what a joy it was to read this book based on the biblical book of Ruth!

Miller introduces the reader to the subject of hesed, a word and concept that I was first introduced to by Michael Card, who is currently working on a book on the subject.

Miller writes “In this book we’re going to lock ourselves into the Bible’s story of Ruth and Naomi as they make this journey of love. The story of Ruth can transform you if you allow it to remap your own story and draw you into a life of love.”

I highlighted a number of things that Miller writes about hesed. Some of them are:

  • Sometimes hesed is translated “steadfast love.” It combines commitment with sacrifice. Hesed is one-way love. Love without an exit strategy. When you love with hesed love, you bind yourself to the object of your love, no matter what the response is.
  • Hesed is a stubborn love.
  • Hesed is opposite of the spirit of our age, which says we have to act on our feelings. Hesed says, “No, you act on your commitments. The feelings will follow.” Love like this is unbalanced, uneven. There is nothing fair about this kind of love. But commitment-love lies at the heart of Christianity. It is Jesus’s love for us at the cross, and it is to be our love for one another.
  • Hesed love is a determination to do someone good, no matter what, to be faithful to a covenant regardless of its impact on you. It wills to love when every fiber in your body screams run. This determination to love is at the heart of Jesus’s relationship with his Father, and at the heart of ours as well.
  • Ruth has done hesed with Yahweh before she does hesed with Naomi. That is how it works. Faith comes before love.
  • God is trapped by his love for us. God is bound to us in hesed love.
  • The person in the Old Testament who does hesed more than any other is God.
  • God does hesed to Naomi through Ruth. Ruth is God’s answer to Naomi’s lament.
  • Hesed loves regardless of the response. It does not demand recognition or equality. It is uneven.
  • Hesed love doesn’t pretend everything is rosy. In fact, because it knows things aren’t rosy, it sets its will to love regardless of the response of the one loved.
  • Ruth gives us a perfect example of authenticity. Her deeds match her words. She commits to hesed, then does hesed. Her will (what she does) is shaped by her hesed, her passions (her love for God and Naomi).
  • Endurance is the heartbeat of hesed love. And the nature of endurance is hanging in there in opposition to your feelings.
  • Hesed love loves in opposition to our feelings. Love like this strips us of self-will and purifies our motivations.
  • Hesed doesn’t look at the fairness of love; its commitment has nothing to do with how the other person treats you.
  • Vulnerability is part of the cost of hesed. Love carries risk.
  • Hesed love captivates us because it is so rare.
  • In the storm of hesed love, you hide yourself in God. He is your only refuge when you are enduring alone, without help.
  • Hesed love isn’t just doing love; it is the enjoyment of love.
  • Hesed love draws you in. It seduces you. You want to own its beauty, to enter it.
  • When we reflect on the story we are in, we discover hidden there God’s hesed love of us.

Miller also offers many important insights on the subject of lament, stating “In the context of the whole book of Ruth, Ruth’s love is God’s response to Naomi’s lament. God often uses human agents to show his love.” He states that a lament is a prayer, a plea for help. No one can endure the weight of hesed love alone. An honest lament makes hesed love possible. He also states that the church has not been particularly good at hearing laments from its broken people, but that when we hear a lament, we enter into that person’s pain, which is what Ruth does with Naomi.

He introduces us to what he refers to as the “J curve”. He writes “Our journey of love has a shape to it—like a J-curve. When we understand this framework, it resets our expectations for what life is like. In hesed love we enter into the dying-resurrection life of Jesus.” Miller writes that the book of Ruth began with death, but ends with resurrection.

This book was a joy to read. He includes many helpful illustrations to reinforce his teaching, just as he did in A Praying Life. Read it slowly to fully take in its full richness. Highly recommended.

The Next Story by Tim ChalliesThe Next Story: Faith, Friends, Family and the Digital World by Tim Challies. 224 pages. Zondervan. 2015 edition.
****

Tim Challies is a pastor and a popular blogger at Informing the Reforming, which is required reading for me each morning. In this book he looks at how the digital explosion has reshaped our understanding of ourselves, our world, and, most importantly, our knowledge of God. He writes: “If technology is a good gift from God, with the potential to help us fulfill our God-given calling and purpose, why does it so often feel like we are slaves to our technology, like we are serving it instead of demanding that it serve us?”

He explores suggestions and ideas for how Christians can live in this new digital world with character, virtue, and wisdom. He examines how we can respond to these revolutionary changes as followers of Christ, and how we can learn to live faithfully as the next story unfolds.

In the first part of the book, Challies looks to theology, theory, and experience. In the second part he looks at areas of application specific to the Christian life. He shows how we can live with wisdom and virtue in a digital world, using our technologies without being used by them.

He writes that it is not the technology itself that is good or evil, but instead the human application of that technology. Every technology brings with it both risk and opportunity. He includes a helpful digital history that includes discussion of the impact of the steam engine, telegraph, telephone, television, computer and mobile devices.

He states that the average adult now spends nearly nine hours per day in front of some type of screen (desk top/laptop/tablet computer, phone, gaming devices, television). He writes that soon we will be spending more time in the glare of a screen than we spend outside of it.

He discusses that the way we read online differs from the way we read printed material. He states that studies show that, at best, Internet users skim text rather than read it. Skimming has now become the dominant form of reading. He encourages readers to seek to understand how a technology will change and shape us before we introduce it to our lives.

In discussing whether something has become an idol in our lives he writes: “One possible sign of idolatry is when we devote an inordinate amount of time and attention to something, when we feel less than complete without it. Clearly, cell phones have the potential to become an idol, determining our behavior and creating patterns of addiction in our lives.”

He writes a lot about how the digital explosion has brought distractions into our lives. He states that with these ever-present distractions “….we are quickly becoming a people of shallow thoughts, and shallow thoughts will lead to shallow living”.

Challies states that the challenge is clear: “We need to relearn how to think, and we need to discipline ourselves to think deeply, conquering the distractions in our lives so that we can live deeply. We must rediscover how to be truly thoughtful Christians, as we seek to live with virtue in the aftermath of the digital explosion”.

A section I found particularly interesting was his discussion of Wikipedia and Google. With Wikipedia he shows how truth in a digital world often comes to us by consensus. And search engines such as Google incline us to associate truth with relevance.

An interesting observation that Challies offers is “The strange reality that we crave both privacy (example: our data) and visibility (example: social media) in this new digital reality.” He discusses our “data trails”, and asks, “What does your data trail say about you? Would you be willing for your spouse to see it? Your parents? Your pastors?”

In the chapter added for the paperback edition of the book, he helps the reader practically apply the book’s principles to the Christian home and family via his Digital Family Plan. Again, I feel that this single chapter is worth the price of the entire book. The plan has three broad goals:

  1. To teach and train children to use the Internet and their devices responsibly.
  2. To guard children from seeing or experiencing what they do not know exists.
  3. To prevent children from seeing or experiencing what they may desire once they learn that it exists.

The plan has four phases: Plan, Prepare, Meet, and Monitor. This is an important and challenging book for Christians as we consider what it is to live in the new digital age.

A related resource is Tim’s excellent message “Purity in a Digital Age” from the 2015 Ligonier Ministries National Conference.

I read this book when it was first published in 2011. The recently published updated and expanded paperback edition features a new chapter that is worth the price of the book. The book also features a helpful application section and questions for reflection at the end of each chapter, making it a good book to read and discuss with others.

What Does the Bible Really Teach about HomosexualityWhat Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung. Crossway. 160 pages. 2015.
****

Kevin DeYoung, senior pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, and one of the leading young voices in Reformed circles, has written a very readable book from a pastoral heart, on a hot topic in our culture today. Up front, he tells us that this is a Christian book that has the focus of defending a traditional view of marriage.

He writes: “Is homosexual activity a sin that must be repented of, forsaken, and forgiven, or, given the right context and commitment, can we consider same-sex sexual intimacy a blessing worth celebrating and solemnizing? That is the question this book seeks to answer.”

He is open in stating that he believes same-sex sexual intimacy is a sin. “Along with most Christians around the globe and virtually every Christian in the first nineteen-and-a-half centuries of church history, I believe the Bible places homosexual behavior—no matter the level of commitment or mutual affection—in the category of sexual immorality.” Why the author believes this is the subject of the book.

The book is divided into a few major parts:  Part 1, consists of five chapters which examine the five most relevant and most debated biblical texts related to homosexuality. In part 2, DeYoung focuses on seven of the most common objections to this traditional view of sexual morality. A final chapter tries to explain what is at stake in the debate. Three appendices follow the main portion of the book.

DeYoung states that we must reinterpret our experiences through the Bible, rather than letting our experiences dictate what the Bible can and cannot mean. He encourages the reader, whatever their presuppositions may be, to keep three things open as they read the book: their heads, heart, and Bible.

In looking at Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, he suggests six reasons why we cannot set aside these passages, but should instead view these prohibitions as an expression of God’s unchanging moral will.

In addressing the key New Testament text on this subject, he writes:  “The most detailed and significant treatment of homosexuality is found in the first chapter of the most important letter in the history of the world. Romans 1 reinforces with unambiguous clarity all that we’ve seen up to this point from the Old Testament; namely, that homosexual practice is a serious sin and a violation of God’s created order.”

In addressing some of the common objections in part two, he writes:  “We cannot count same-sex behavior as an indifferent matter. Of course, homosexuality isn’t the only sin in the world, nor is it the most critical one to address in many church contexts. But if 1 Corinthians 6 is right, it’s not an overstatement to say that solemnizing same-sex sexual behavior—like supporting any form of sexual immorality—runs the risk of leading people to hell.”

DeYoung states that the biblical teaching is consistent and unambiguous, that homosexual activity is not God’s will for his people. In addressing the objections, he states how the revisionist authors look at the issue and texts in question.

He challenges the reader to consider what is at stake in moving away from the standard view of marriage:

  • The moral logic of monogamy
  • The integrity of Christian sexual ethics
  • The authority of the Bible
  • The grand narrative of Scripture

DeYoung states “The path which leads to the affirmation of homosexual behavior is a journey which inevitably leaves behind a clear, inerrant Bible, and picks up from liberalism a number of assumptions about the importance of individual authority and cultural credibility.”

The book concludes with three appendices:

  1. What about Same-Sex Marriage?
  2. Same-Sex Attraction: Three Building Blocks
  3. The Church and Homosexuality: Ten Commitments

He includes a helpful annotated bibliography for those who want to keep exploring what the Bible says about homosexuality.

The publisher is offering a Study Guide for the book at crossway.org/DeYoung2015.

Certainly not everyone will agree with the conclusions in this important book. It is a well-written, pastoral, and I believe biblically based view of this important issue.

Rise - Trip LeeRise: Get Up and Live in God’s Great Story by Trip Lee. Thomas Nelson. 240 pages. 2015
*** ½

Trip Lee is barely 27 years old. And yet he has released five popular rap/hip-hop albums and now two books. He was a Pastoral Assistant at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C., where Mark Dever is the senior pastor, for four years, and recently moved to Atlanta to plant a church in Atlanta.

The foreword of the book was written by John Piper. Piper writes “One of the main things I like about Trip Lee and his book, Rise, is the interplay of reverence and relevance.“

Trip writes that this book is written for those who are young, to give hope to those who feel they have little to contribute. He states that it is written with the conviction that when a young person sees the glory of God everything changes. They Rise! He wants the book to be one that skeptics and seekers can enjoy and understand as well.

The book is split into three main sections: getting up, growing up, and pointing up:

  1. Getting Up: This section talks about what it means for each of us to embrace our role in God’s story and rise to the calling.
  2. Growing Up: This section talks about how to grow in the roles God has shown us.
  3. Pointing Up: This section talks about how our rising points people to the glory of the God who raises people from the dead.

The book is a quick read and contains subjects that young people will easily relate to. I highlighted a number of passages in the book and would like to share some of them with you below:

  • We were made to be mirrors perfectly reflecting God’s goodness, but with sin that mirror was fractured and the reflection is distorted.
  • The myth of procrastination is that it will somehow be easier later. The truth is, it’s never easy, and putting it off only makes it harder.
  • There are several problems with writing off young people. One of them is the strange assumption that for some reason God can’t get glory from young people.
  • What do we do about those people who think we’re worthless? Be an example for them.
  • It’s powerful to see a young man in his early twenties who would rather spend time with God’s people than go to a club. It’s powerful to see a young man fighting to remain sober. It’s powerful to see a young woman finding her identity in Christ and not in what others think. What an amazing picture of God’s grace.
  • Have you ever thought about how disastrous shortsightedness can be in our lives? Too many of us are trying to live our lives with no regard for what happens later. We have to think big picture. Every decision we make is a small piece of a larger puzzle. And without looking at the big picture for reference, we’ll place the pieces incorrectly every time.
  • When it comes to morality, all of us have bad taste. None of us is born with natural moral sense. None of us has that perfect combination of heart and deeds. Instead, we’re repelled by good things and attracted to the wrong things. Because of this, when we don’t get to take part in wickedness, we feel like we’re being left out. We feel like we’re missing out on the fun. But we have it exactly backward. Strangely, we complain about missing the chance to waste our lives. That’s like complaining about being spared in a deadly hostage situation.
  • Does God want you to have a boring life? To answer yes is to say something untrue about Him. He’s the Creator of life, and it’s tragic to suggest that He might not want you to enjoy it.
  • God doesn’t try to keep us from good things; He’s the giver of all good things. He’s the source.
  • When we focus on the wicked, it seems like they have everything. But when we look at our God, we see the truth. He’s all we need.
  • There are no super-Christians, only regular Christians denying themselves and embracing their Lord. When was the last time you said no to yourself? Denying self isn’t a one-time thing, but a daily task.
  • There are really only two ways to respond to Jesus: you can deny yourself and follow Him, or you can deny Him and follow yourself. Who do you think is the better leader?
  • Scripture treats time less like an entitlement and more like a treasure. The Bible talks about time as if it’s a loan from God that we should invest well. Everything we have belongs to God, including our time. We should invest it well, putting it where He tells us to instead of robbing Him and chasing what we think will satisfy us in the moment. We should be thinking carefully about how to spend every moment for the glory of God. You should invest your time in things that have an eternal impact. You should spend your time loving God and loving others.
  • One of the most important things I learned early on is that everyone is a theologian; some of us are good ones and others of us are bad ones. What I mean is that all of us have an understanding of who God is. Some have accurate pictures of Him, and others have inaccurate pictures.
  • Build your life on the Word of God. And I don’t mean just declare that you think God’s Word is true. I mean dedicate yourself to it. Meditate on it day and night. Do what God says. Building your life on the Word of God is an ongoing process, not a one-time thing.
  • Another key to going deep is finding a good church.
  • This obsession with others’ approval has the potential to poison every thought we have, every decision we make, and every assessment of ourselves. It turns opportunities to glorify God into opportunities to glorify self.
  • Social popularity is fickle and temporary. But acceptance by God through Christ is rock solid and eternal.
  • One of the quickest ways to ensure compromise is to obsess over what other people think of you. Sooner or later, the obsession with approval will make you do something that grieves God—all so you can please other people.
  • God has given us one another to help fight our sin, but we often hide from each other in shame. That’s an understandable response for those who are still exposed and vulnerable to judgment. But our sin has already been covered, so we have no need to hide it. Why hide a bill that’s already been paid?
  • As you read this, you may have some serious unconfessed sin in your life. Please remember this: Confession of sin is your friend, not your enemy. Confession of sin can only be perceived as your enemy if you have a goal other than God’s glory.
  • Every time I confess my sin to another Christian, he has some sin to confess to me as well. Confessing your sin encourages other Christians to do the same. And it reminds all of us of our need for Jesus.
  • My first lessons about sex came from R&B albums.
  • I know sex is a good thing, and treating sex as a disgusting thing to be avoided is unacceptable. It’s one of the greatest, most enjoyable gifts God has given us. My problem is the way the world celebrates sex.
  • Sex is meant to be a physical expression of a greater reality: the coming together of a husband and wife in marriage.
  • Sex is beautiful, but outside of marriage it loses everything that makes it that way. Marriage itself is a symbol of an even greater reality: Christ’s love for His church.
  • Sex outside of marriage is a perversion of God’s gift. We are sinners, and our sinful hearts distort everything, including the great gift of sexual desire. Thus, lust is the horrible disfiguring of our sexual desires, turning a good man into a monster.
  • It may be more common for guys, but it’s not rare for women. There are many women who struggle with porn, and the more we pretend it’s only a male problem, the less women feel comfortable talking about it. This is an everyone problem. It seems to have affected all of us. It’s rare to meet someone who hasn’t been touched by its devastating effects. And I’m not just speaking about the nonbelieving world. This is a dark struggle for many Christians. The difference has to be that we fight. And our God has given us the power to do so.
  • At the root of our porn problem is discontentment with God’s plan for our sexuality.
  • Some of us need to delete our social media apps because idle clicking always leads to the same place. We need to tell our friends all our dirt. We need to get accountability software. We need to get rid of our laptops and phones. Are you willing to do the drastic things you need to do?
  • There is no halfway or lackadaisical way to fight lust. If you’re not fighting your sin, you’re befriending your sin.
  • My goal is not to say that the younger you get married, the more holy you are. I just want to dispel the myth that we should delay adulthood and only consider marriage after we’re thirty or older. Whatever age you are, seek to view marriage the way God does.
  • This isn’t to say our peers always give terrible counsel, but we shouldn’t avoid counsel from older folks because we don’t like it. We should hear their counsel and measure it by the ultimate source of wisdom, God’s Word. That’s why I’m encouraging you to specifically spend time with godly older people.
  • Another natural way of gaining wisdom would be strengthening your relationship with your mom or dad, if they’re believers.
  • Here’s the grey rule: embrace things that lead you closer to Jesus, and reject things that lead you away from Jesus.
  • The question is not whether or not you will face trials. The question is, how will you respond when you do?
  • As I write this chapter, I still haven’t been healed. It continues to complicate every area of my life. In fact, the book is being turned in a week late because chronic fatigue left me bedridden for a few days the week it was due. I’m still praying the Lord will heal me, and that He’ll give me grace to glorify Him in my weakness. My energy is never the same from week to week, but my God is.
  • Ultimately, whatever it is you’re doing, it’s for God. Paul wrote to the Colossians: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col. 2:23). No matter where you are or what you’re doing, your supervisor is Jesus. He’s the one who will reward you, and He’s the one you’ll ultimately answer to.
  • What we do with our lives every day, whether at school, a desk job, or keeping the home in order, is our most basic opportunity to glorify God. That’s what your role in His story looks like day in and day out. Instead of waiting to be offered a new role, play the current one well.
  • When you put your faith in our compassionate God, it leads to a compassionate life.
  • Showing compassion is one of the clearest ways we can visibly show people what the gospel looks like.
  • As a minister of the gospel, you have one primary task: proclaim Christ. We get bogged down, confused, and discouraged because we get away from the main thing. Tell people about Jesus.
  • At the core of this gospel message is the truth that God is holy, man is sinful, Christ was perfect and died for sinners, and He rose from the grave. And those who turn from sin and trust in Christ will be saved. That’s the message you’ve been called to preach.
  • If joining a church seems more like a nuisance than a privilege, that could be evidence you still have some growing to do. It’s much more than an annoying necessity in God’s eyes. And I want to encourage you to be excited about the things God is excited about. He loves the church, and we should love the church as well.

The Evangelistic Zeal of George WhitefieldThe Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield by Steven Lawson. Reformation Trust Publishing. 178 pages. 2013
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I’ve enjoyed reading a few of the books in the Long Line of Godly Men series – books on Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, John Owen and now George Whitefield. I look forward to reading Steven Lawson’s books on John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards in the future. About the series, the series editor Lawson writes:

This Long Line of Godly Men Profile series highlights key figures in the age-long procession of sovereign-grace men. The purpose of this series is to explore how these figures used their God-given gifts and abilities to impact their times and further the kingdom of heaven.”

This book focuses on the great English evangelist George Whitefield. Lawson writes: “In the eighteenth century, a day plagued by lifeless orthodoxy, Whitefield burst onto the scene with power and passion. In a day marked by great spiritual decline, Whitefield preached with a supernatural unction and intense boldness that became the primary catalyst in ushering in two major revivals simultaneously, one in the British Isles and the other in the American colonies.”

Lawson indicates that if he could be anyone in church history it would be Whitefield, because of his consuming evangelistic zeal. Whitefield has instilled within him a passion for preaching.

Lawson begins with a brief biography of Whitefield. A few highlights of which are:

  • Whitefield was the force behind the British Evangelical movement and the First Great Awakening. Not since the first-century missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul had such evangelistic preaching been taken so directly to the masses of the world.
  • In his thirty-four years of ministry, Whitefield preached some eighteen thousand sermons, often to multiplied thousands. If informal messages are included, such as in private homes, this number easily increases to thirty thousand sermons, perhaps more. Three sermons a day were common; four were not uncommon. Conservative estimates are that he spoke a thousand times every year for more than thirty years. In America alone, it is estimated that eighty percent of the colonists heard him preach. This means Whitefield was seen by far more American settlers than was George Washington. Whitefield’s name was more widely recognized by colonial Americans than any living person’s except for those of British royalty. It is believed that Whitefield preached to more than ten million people over the course of his ministry, a staggering number.
  • Making seven demanding trips to America, Whitefield crossed the Atlantic Ocean thirteen times for the express purpose of preaching the gospel. He spent almost three years of his life on a ship en route to preach. In all, about eight years of his life were spent in America. He made fifteen trips to Scotland, two to Ireland, and one each to Gibraltar, Bermuda, and the Netherlands.
  • Near the end of Whitefield’s first year at Oxford, Charles Wesley (1707–1788), the future hymn writer, introduced him to a small group of students known as the “Oxford Holy Club.” Included in this group was Charles’ brother, John Wesley (1703–1791), and ten others who met to pursue religiously moral lives. Despite their rigid discipline in Bible reading, study, prayer, fasting, and service, not one of these young students was converted. So stringent was Whitefield in his self-righteous efforts to earn salvation that his severe discipline caused him to suffer a lifelong physical weakness.
  • At age twenty-one, Whitefield was regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and placed his faith in Christ.
  • The Wesleys, still unconverted, departed for the mission field in the American colony of Georgia, leaving Whitefield the leader of the Holy Club. With flaming zeal in his soul, he evangelized his fellow students and placed new believers into small-group Bible studies. This strict discipline in Bible study led many to label the members of the Holy Club with the derisive term “Methodists.”
  • Unexpectedly, correspondence came from John and Charles Wesley in Georgia, urging Whitefield to help in their new missionary work.
  • Whitefield at last arrived in Savannah, Georgia, on May 7, 1738, only to discover that John Wesley had left the colony under indictment by a grand jury. The mission work was in complete shambles. As Whitefield surveyed the scene, he saw a great number of orphans and felt compelled to build an orphanage.
  • Upon his return, Whitefield discovered the Wesleys had been converted and had assumed the leadership of this new, emerging movement known as Methodism.
  • Vicious pamphlets were circulated in opposition to them and rumors spread, smearing Whitefield’s name. Church doors were closed to him, forcing a bold new strategy. He would bypass church buildings altogether and preach in the open air. This first success in open-air preaching proved to be the turning point not only for Whitefield’s ministry but, in many ways, for evangelicalism in general.
  • During this one summer, it is estimated that in London and the surrounding counties Whitefield preached to as many as one million people. Astonishingly, this success occurred while Whitefield was but a mere twenty-four years old.
  • But at the very height of this ministry, Whitefield made a daring decision. Rather than ride this wave of popularity, he determined in August 1739 to board a ship and sail for America. This young evangelist was determined to enter the large cities of the colonies and bring this same evangelistic preaching and revivalist spirit to the New World.
  • After a two-month voyage, Whitefield landed at Lewes, Delaware, ready to launch a new preaching campaign. This evangelistic tour through the colonies is considered by many the greatest preaching campaign ever undertaken.
  • Benjamin Franklin was a close friend of Whitefield. Franklin set out to make Whitefield famous in the colonies. He printed ten editions of Whitefield’s Journals, and secured the assistance of eleven printers in making them bestsellers. During 1739–1741, more than half the books published by Franklin were by or about Whitefield.
  • Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), the recognized leader of the first wave of the Great Awakening, invited Whitefield to Northampton, Massachusetts, where he preached four times in October 1740. This would be the only time that the leaders of this powerful movement would meet.
  • Not since New Testament times had the world witnessed such explosive energy and extensive outreach in evangelistic preaching.
  • Having left England at the height of his popularity, he returned a year later to dwindling support. This decline was due to a crisis created by John Wesley over Whitefield’s belief in the sovereignty of God in salvation. Before Whitefield’s return, Wesley had distributed a tract titled Free Grace, a bitter condemnation of the doctrines of grace aimed directly at his old friend. Whitefield responded by defending the biblical teaching of God’s election and predestination. However, the damage was done. The painful separation of these spiritual leaders resulted in a division that affected countless people.
  • En route, four-month-old John was overtaken by the cold and died. In strange providence, Whitefield’s son died in the very home in which George himself had been born, and as he confided, “laid in the church where I was baptized, first communicated, and first preached.”
  • Further difficulty came when Whitefield survived a well-orchestrated assassination plot in which he was attacked while in bed at night.
  • Sorrow came in 1768 when his wife, Elizabeth, unexpectedly died.
  • On September 16, 1769, Whitefield preached his final London sermon from John 10:27–28. Soon afterward, he sailed for America in what would be his last trip across the Atlantic.
  • Whitefield preached his last sermon in Exeter, New Hampshire, on September 29, 1770. It was a soul-searching exposition that would last two hours, and was titled “Examine Yourself,” from 2 Corinthians 13:5. On Sunday morning, September 30, 1770, at approximately six o’clock a.m., George Whitefield breathed his last and entered into the presence of Him whom he had so faithfully proclaimed. As per his instruction, Whitefield was buried under the next pulpit in which he was to preach. Appropriately, his body was laid in a subterranean crypt under the pulpit of the Old South Presbyterian Church. In London, John Wesley preached Whitefield’s memorial service at one of Whitefield’s churches, Tottenham Court Road Chapel.

I highlighted a number of passages in this short book and would like to share some of them with you below:

  • His unparalleled effectiveness as an evangelist cannot be grasped until one sees the depth of his close communion with the Lord.
  • He was consumed with a fervent desire to know God Himself, which ignited a contagious fire within his soul to lead others to a saving knowledge of Christ.
  • Whitefield was, as Lloyd-Jones identified, “a pietist, that is, one who saw practical personal devotion to the Father and the Son through the Spirit as always the Christian’s top priority.”
  • Whitefield’s spiritual devotion was established upon his immovable commitment to the Bible.
  • The Word of God became so all-consuming in Whitefield’s daily life that he confessed to having little time to read anything else: “I got more true knowledge from reading the Book of God in one month, than I could ever have acquired from all the writings of men.”
  • As Whitefield lived for Christ, the Word of God became the ruling authority over his life.
  • Moreover, Whitefield was devoted to God in earnest prayer. Whitefield understood that prayer was a necessary spiritual discipline for the grounding and growth of his soul.
  • Further, Whitefield’s devotion meant he maintained a singular focus upon Jesus Christ.
  • The magnifying lens through which Whitefield saw Christ was Scripture. Above all, Whitefield’s desire was to know Jesus Christ. In addition, Whitefield’s piety was evidenced in his remarkable humility. Whitefield never lost sight of the fact that he was a wretched sinner saved by grace.
  • This gifted preacher would not allow a Christian institution to be named after him. The more he looked upon Christ’s holiness, the more he became aware of his own sin. He was willing to concede the error of his ways whenever he discovered he was wrong.
  • But perhaps the supreme example of Whitefield’s humility concerned his theological differences and strained relationships with the Wesley brothers. For the sake of peace, he chose to resign his leadership role in the Methodist movement, which he had helped to start.
  • Finally, Whitefield’s godliness was witnessed in his constant pursuit of personal holiness.
  • Moral perfection, he contended, was not ultimately attainable until he entered the heavenly realm. This understanding was diametrically opposed to the perfectionism taught by the Wesleys, who asserted that a believer could cease sinning. Whitefield countered that perfect holiness could never be fully realized upon this earth.
  • George Whitefield was arguably the most prolific evangelist since the time of the Apostles. Yet, at the same time, he was also a staunch Calvinist. Undergirding his passionate gospel preaching was an unwavering belief in God’s sovereignty in man’s salvation.
  • Some argue that these two realities—sovereign grace and evangelistic zeal—cannot co-exist. But nothing could be further from the truth. They meet perfectly in Scripture, and they existed side-by-side in Whitefield’s ministry.
  • “I embrace the Calvinistic scheme, not because of Calvin, but Jesus Christ has taught it to me,” Whitefield said.
  • Whitefield drank deeply from the well of the doctrines of grace, and it proved to be the spring of all he believed and preached. Each tenet of Calvinism shaped and molded him into a zealous evangelist.
  • Whitefield held to the biblical doctrine of total depravity. This is the scriptural teaching that the original sin of Adam was imputed to the entire human race, condemning all subsequent generations. Likewise, the sin nature of Adam was transmitted to every person at the moment of their conception.
  • Every faculty of every person—mind, affections, and will—is fatally plagued by sin. The entire fallen race cannot, by its own moral efforts, save itself. Neither does any sinful creature have faith to believe in Christ. Whitefield believed that man is utterly dead in sin, and his will is held captive in bondage.
  • Whitefield believed that man rejects the teachings of original sin and total depravity due to inherent pride.
  • Whitefield’s understanding of total depravity indelibly marked his preaching. Virtually every sermon Whitefield preached pointed man to his desperate condition in sin.
  • Whitefield likewise embraced the biblical doctrine of sovereign election. He maintained that before time began, God the Father freely chose those whom He would save out of the whole of the fallen race. These chosen ones were elected not on the basis of anything good foreseen in them, and certainly not for any foreseen faith in Christ. God chose to set His sovereign love upon certain individuals for reasons known only to Himself.
  • Whitefield firmly held to the Reformed position on predestination. In this biblical view, from all eternity God decrees some to election and intervenes in their lives to work regeneration and faith by a divine act of grace, bringing them all to Himself in eternity future.
  • Whitefield was also convinced that the doctrine of election has great converting power.
  • God withholds from the non-elect this work of saving grace, passing them by and leaving them to themselves, a biblical truth known as reprobation.
  • Whitefield also championed the doctrine of definite atonement, also known as particular redemption.
  • This is the teaching that the Father’s election, the Son’s redemption, and the Spirit’s application of salvation are all coextensive; that God planned to save a certain people, His sheep…and sent His Son explicitly to achieve this goal.” God the Father designed the death of the Lord Jesus Christ with the specific purpose of saving His elect.
  • Definite atonement was an essential element in Whitefield’s explanation of the gospel.
  • Whitefield further preached that all those chosen by the Father and redeemed by the Son would be regenerated by the Holy Spirit. The saving work of Christ on the cross is applied by the effectual call of the Holy Spirit. He held that the third person of the Trinity would convict the elect sinner, efficaciously draw him to Christ, and grant the gifts of true repentance and faith.
  • Whitefield believed that regeneration is monergistic, an exclusive work of God in the human heart that both precedes and produces saving faith.
  • Finally, Whitefield upheld the biblical doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Whitefield was convinced that God brings all His chosen ones to future glory. Those whom God elects and brings to salvation will be preserved by grace, both in time and eternity. Those whom God saves, He saves forever. They will never fall away. They will never perish. This doctrine brought great joy to Whitefield throughout his Christian life and ministry.
  • The focus of his extraordinary ministry was the simple proclamation of the gospel and the appeal to the unconverted to enter through the narrow gate.
  • He purposed not to be with anyone for more than fifteen minutes without confronting them with the claims of Christ.
  • Whitefield was convinced that any presentation of the gospel must begin by exposing the listener’s sin and his dire need for salvation.
  • Only when confronted with their sinfulness, Whitefield insisted, would unbelievers seek to embrace Christ as their Savior and Lord.
  • Whitefield’s sermons were filled with vivid warnings of the horrific dangers of remaining in a state of sin.
  • Whitefield understood that gospel preaching must include the threat of hell, which is intended to drive men to flee to Christ and escape His terrors.
  • Whitefield next proceeded to the saving death of the Lord Jesus Christ. The message of sin is dark, but by it the truth of salvation through the cross shines that much brighter.
  • Whitefield set before sinners Christ’s death and His atoning blood as the only means of salvation.
  • Whitefield preached best, he perceived, when he proclaimed the glories of the cross.
  • Whitefield, moreover, was continually expounding upon the necessity of regeneration, as a “great theme” in his preaching, according to Lloyd-Jones.
  • At the heart of Whitefield’s preaching was this doctrine of the new birth. Regeneration had not been a central focus for the Reformers, but Whitefield made it a dominant emphasis in his preaching. Standing behind the truth on regeneration is the doctrine of election.
  • Whitefield pressed the hearts of his listeners for an immediate response. It was not enough for him that people knew the truth of the gospel. They must fully commit themselves to Jesus Christ.
  • It could be argued that Whitefield’s favorite word in preaching was the word come. He repeatedly urged his listeners to come to Christ by faith.
  • It is quite clear that Whitefield believed an invitation must be offered to the lost to come to Christ. Still, he did not practice an “altar call,” nor did he encourage emotional excitement among his congregation.
  • Whitefield further impressed upon his listeners the certain reality of eternity that lay before them.
  • In nearly every sermon, Whitefield affirmed that the day of eternity was close at hand.
  • With graphic words and an arresting voice, Whitefield had the keen ability to dramatically represent the horrors of hell. His vivid language in describing the lake of fire caused people to feel as if they might drop into the bottomless pit at any moment.
  • The evangelistic zeal of George Whitefield flowed out of his love for the glorious gospel of grace. It was this supreme love and devotion that drove him to pursue the lost, expose sin, exalt the cross, summon the will, and point to eternity.
  • Arnold Dallimore wrote, “His ministry presents an unparalleled example of declaring the sovereignty of God combined with the free offer of salvation to all who would believe on Christ.”
  • Whitefield provides the quintessential example of one who held the doctrines of grace in one hand and the free offer of the gospel in the other hand.
  • In a day when pulpit delivery had degenerated into dry ritual, involving nothing more than a monotone reading of a sermon manuscript, Whitefield burst onto the scene with intense preaching.
  • Whitefield’s passion arose from the depth of his biblical convictions. Whenever he stood behind an open Bible, Whitefield was thoroughly convinced that he was delivering divine truth.
  • Whitefield so elevated the importance of preaching that he stated, “May I die preaching.” Again, “I hope yet to die in the pulpit, or soon after I come out of it.” In God’s providence, Whitefield realized this very desire. On a balcony not far from his deathbed, he preached his last sermon to a large crowd that had filled the street in front of the parsonage. He died within hours of extending the invitation for all to embrace Christ.
  • Whitefield’s soul was ignited with fiery zeal in his preaching. Whitefield’s intense passion was kindled by his own deepening love for God and Jesus Christ, which in turn ignited his compassion for lost sinners.
  • Whitefield’s affection for God was stoked by reflection upon the greatness of His character. Moreover, his heart of love was fueled by his personal communion with Jesus Christ. This intimate knowledge of Christ was the consistent theme that filled his soul and increased his affections.
  • Whitefield often wept as he preached. Deep compassion for unbelievers moved Whitefield in his preaching.
  • An understanding of Whitefield’s ministry must recognize his relentless pursuit of the lost.
  • Whitefield is remembered as one of the first to preach to African slaves in the colonies.
  • Whitefield believed God had sovereignly called him to preach the gospel.
  • The relentless drive of Whitefield’s herculean effort was fueled by power from on high. Consider the unparalleled pace of Whitefield’s itinerant ministry.
  • He founded three churches and one school, and founded and assumed responsibility for an orphanage in Savannah, Georgia, often preaching five or six times a day, for as much as forty hours a week.
  • The only way Whitefield could endure all he did, travel as much as he did, preach as much as he did, and exert the energy that he did, was through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
  • Whitefield’s deep love for the souls of men and women did not originate in himself. It was God who gave him an uncommon love for those to whom he preached.
  • Time and again, Whitefield attributed his effectiveness, influence, and scope in ministry to the quickening effect of the Holy Spirit.
  • The Spirit also gave Whitefield resilience in the face of opposition to the message he preached.
  • Whitefield was inwardly consoled in the midst of many demanding circumstances in his life and ministry.
  • At times, Whitefield felt abandoned by the Lord. It was then that the Lord came in great power to shore up his weakness.
  • As he faced these many trials in his life and ministry—the conflict with the Wesleys, the financial burden of the Bethesda Orphanage, the long ocean voyages, the premature death of his newborn son, the loss of his wife, and the growing hecklers in the crowd—this valiant soldier of the cross found supernatural solace in the Lord, mediated by the Holy Spirit.
  • Whitefield understood that the effects of his preaching were sovereignly determined by God. His responsibility was to deliver the message and leave the results entirely with God.
  • The same Spirit who indwelled Whitefield has taken up His royal residence within the heart of every believer in Christ. The same Spirit who called Whitefield from obscurity to worldwide influence has placed the same call upon every Christian’s heart to bear gospel witness. The same Spirit who empowered Whitefield in his numerous endeavors will propel every follower of Christ to service in His name. The same Spirit who energized Whitefield will give divine energy and supernatural power today to accomplish all He wills.
  • Among his many qualities worth emulating, we see the primacy of the gospel in his preaching. He lived to proclaim the saving message of Jesus Christ.

Lawson concludes by writing:

“May the Lord raise up a new generation of zealous evangelists who will never lose sight of the need to preach the gospel with urgency and passion.”

Recommended Resource

Reformation Study BibleReformation Study Bible – R.C. Sproul, General Editor

In April 1995 I first saw the New Geneva Study Bible (later renamed The Reformation Study Bible) at the book table. We were in Springfield to hear Dr. John Gerstner (R.C. Sproul’s mentor), speak near the end of his life (he would die less than a year later on March 24, 1996). I had my copy on order so couldn’t purchase a copy that day.

I am so excited that The Reformation Study Bible has been thoroughly revised and carefully crafted under the editorial leadership of R.C. Sproul and the contributions of 75 distinguished theologians and pastors from around the world. It was released at the recent 2015 Ligonier National Conference, and will be available publicly this month.

Over 1.1 million words of new, expanded, or revised commentary represent 40% more content faithfully presented to emphasize the need for the grace of God to lead out of darkness and into the light of Scripture.

Trustworthy Scholars & Commentary

  • New theological notes from general editor, R.C. Sproul
  • Commentary from 75 faithful theologians from around the world
  • New topical articles to enrich additional study of Scripture

Thoroughly Revised & Expanded Study Aids

  • Over 1.1 million words of verse-by-verse and topical explanations
  • Over 20,000 new, revised, or expanded study notes
  • Historical creeds and confessions from 2,000 years of church history

New Study Tools & Visual Helps

  • Includes over $400 of digital resources (eBooks, videos) from Ligonier Ministries and 6 months of Tabletalk Magazine
  • 16 pages of high-resolution full color maps at back of Bible
  • Embedded maps provide quick references as you read
  • Concordance, table of weights and measures, and more

I was told at the conference that the e-book edition of The Reformation Study Bible would be released (for the first time) in about a month from now, and that when you buy the physical copy you will also receive the e-book version.

There are many excellent study Bibles available – I used the ESV Study Bible, Gospel Transformation Study Bible, MacArthur Study Bible for example. However, once the updated Reformation Study Bible is released in e-book format, it will be the Bible I’ll use each day.

Spurgeon's Sorrows - Zack EswineSpurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for Those Who Suffer from Depression by Zack Eswine. Christian Focus Publications. 144 pages. 2014
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Zack Eswine has long been one of my pastor’s best friends. As a result, I’ve had the opportunity to hear him preach over the years and attend a marriage retreat that he held for our church several years ago. He formerly taught at Covenant Seminary and is now the pastor of Riverside Church in St. Louis. His book Sensing Jesus was one of my favorites of the past few years. If I needed another reason to read the book (and I really didn’t), it is highly endorsed by Scotty Smith.

In this book Zack looks to help those suffering from depression using the words of Charles Spurgeon, the great Calvinist Baptist preacher who Zack refers to as “Charles” in the book, and who also suffered from times of depression.

The book is very helpful, and covers such subjects as medication, suicide, what Jesus says about depression. He begins by recounting when Charles had preached to several thousand people when a prankster yelled, “Fire!” The resulting panic left seven dead and twenty-eight seriously injured. The newspapers across London cruelly and mercilessly blamed him. The senseless tragedy and the public accusation nearly broke Charles’ mind, not only in those early moments but also with lasting effects.

Zack writes: “The fact that such a prominent Christian pastor struggled with depression and talked so openly about it invites us to friendship with a fellow sufferer. As this pastor and preacher grappled with faith and doubt, suffering and hope, we gained a companion on the journey. In his story we can begin to find our own. What he found of Jesus in the darkness can serve as a light for our own darkness. His depression came, not only from circumstances, or from questions about whether or not he was consecrated to God, but also from the chemistry of his body.”

Zack states: “…Day by day Christ’s strength finds them and carries them, though they know not how or when the carrying came. I write this book with prayerful hope that its few bits will likewise nourish you in His carrying. I want to help you get through. So, rather than an exhaustive word or prosaic treatise on depression, I rather hope that you can receive it as it is intended; the handwritten note of one who wishes you well. Such notes of grace I too have sorely needed.”

I highly recommend that you read the book yourself, if not to help yourself, to help others. I highlighted a number of passages in this short book and would like to share some of them with you below:

  • So, let’s remind ourselves at the outset: In itself, sadness or “grief is God’s gift to us. It’s how we get through.” It is an act of faith and wisdom to be sad about sad things.
  • Perhaps among the hardest of our painful circumstances are those suffered in childhood. Depression seized its moment in our youth and something core to our temperament was altered permanently.
  • How then do we tell the difference between the gift of sadness and the trauma of circumstantial depression? In his acclaimed book, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, Andrew Solomon answers: “Grief is depression in proportion to circumstance” while “depression is grief out of proportion to circumstance.”
  • In this fallen world, sadness is an act of sanity, our tears the testimony of the sane.
  • Sometimes depression doesn’t stem from painful circumstances. According to Charles, “Some persons are constitutionally sad.” Sometimes we are marked by melancholy from the moment of our birth.
  • Depression is like a darkness that drapes over us wherever we go. So, when we feel constantly in the dark mentally, we quiver and tremble at what lurks around the corner.
  • Depression is a joy thief. Depression can so vandalize our joy and our sense of God that no promise of His can comfort us in the moment, no matter how true or kindly spoken.
  • As a sufferer or caregiver, we must take into account the body’s contribution to depression.
  • Depression is not a sin. Though sins can result from it and temptations intensify because of it, depression itself is not a sin.
  • Depression is not unique to us. After citing historical examples such as Martin Luther, Isaac Newton, and William Cowper, then Biblical examples such as Job, King David, Elijah or our Lord Jesus, Charles will inevitably say: “You are not the first child of God who has been depressed or troubled.” Even “among the noblest of men and women who ever lived, there has been much of this kind of thing … Do not, therefore, think that you are quite alone in your sorrow.” Even though you may “go to bed in the dark,” you will “wake up in the eternal daylight.”
  • But just as a man with asthma or a woman born mute will likely remain this way even though they love Jesus, so our mental disorders and melancholy inclinations often remain with us too. Conversion to Jesus isn’t heaven, but its foretaste. This side of heaven, grace secures us but doesn’t cure us.
  • It is Christ and not the absence of depression that saves us. So, we declare this truth. Our sense of God’s absence does not mean that He is so. Though our bodily gloom allows us no feeling of His tender touch, He holds on to us still. Our feelings of Him do not save us. He does. Our hope therefore, does not reside in our ability to preserve a good mood but in His ability to bear us up.
  • At its core, spiritual depression concerns real or imagined desertions by God. Various horrible symptoms rise from desertion.
  • Charles believed in an actual devil. This creature does not originate or cause depression. But like a lion drawn to the weakened zebra in the herd, this evil creature derives peculiar pleasure from devouring those who are lame, sick, or debilitated.
  • We plead not ourselves, but the promises of Jesus; not our strengths but His; our weaknesses yes, but His mercies. Our way of fighting is to hide behind Jesus who fights for us. Our hope is not the absence of our regret, or misery or doubt or lament, but the presence of Jesus.
  • We might summarize these categories as circumstance, chemistry and spirit. They each help us begin to understand depression and its kinds.
  • Diagnostic words like “depression” are invitations, not destinations. Once you’ve spoken them, your travel with a person has begun, not ended.
  • According to Dr. Richard Winter, “Without realistic hope, all is lost.” Realistic hope is “the door out of the blackness of depression and despair.” If our hope is trite, those who’ve suffered long enough to get let down by all the answers that people have offered them along the way, will see through to the emptiness of the hope we offer them.
  • Sufferers of depression lean on metaphors. Which metaphor would you use? As a sufferer, search for metaphors to describe your experience.
  • God also advocates for the sorrowing by exposing the kind of help that harms us.
  • When we suffer depression, we wish that our preachers, Christian coffee shop talkers and answer-givers knew more about the prison in which we suffer before they proposed to speak about it.
  • The hope that we offer must match the depths of the wound and the misery of the pain.
  • How can we entrust our sorrows to the larger story of God?
  • God has the sound of reality about Him when He relates to us in our sorrows and sufferings. He knows firsthand the proximity of our despair. He gives us language and care proportionate to our pains.
  • When we search for someone, anyone, to know what it means to walk in our shoes, Jesus emerges as the preeminent and truest companion for our afflictions. Realistic hope is a Jesus-saturated thing. Those who suffer depression have an ally, a hero, a companion-redeemer, advocating for the mentally harassed.
  • We rightly wonder why God allows depression and other suffering. But let us also wonder why He chooses to suffer it with us and for us.
  • In the midst of the pit we doubt that our story could matter to anyone, much less to God or to ourselves. But in truth, those who’ve traversed the howling desert have things to say that no one else really can.
  • It sounds strange but we will want to learn how to talk to ourselves about God’s promises. One way to do this is to write notes to ourselves or for others to do so for us.
  • Charles urged others to live by God’s promises too. He encouraged them to purchase a copy of Clarke’s Precious Promises (FREE online at http://www.whatsaiththescripture.com/Promises/Clarkes_Bible_Promises.html) . Charles kept his own personal copy of this book in his pocket so that he could appeal to it when pain of body or mind or anxiety began to do its foul disabling.
  • What practical help do promises afford us? Primarily, carrying promises such as these enable us to hear what God’s voice sounds like amid the torrent of competing voices that thrash the boarded up windows of our minds.
  • Relief comes because promise fuels realistic hope.
  • Hope on the basis of promise swings open the curtains and lets the sunshine in again.
  • Charles’ favorite mines to revisit for those with depression included Jacob’s limp, Joseph’s tears, Job’s agonies, David’s psalms, Elijah’s desire to die, the laments of the Bible, Paul’s thorn and, as we have seen, our Lord’s misery in Gethsemane.
  • We live like those who’ve gone before us. We too can pray and cry out in relationship with God with our miseries. And this is the whole point of promise, that it leads us to prayer. We express personal relationship with God within the very moment of our gloom.
  • Over the many years of spending time in grief with people, I have noticed that laughter often glows intermittent amid waves of tears, when friends gather, mourn together, and share stories. Have you noticed this too?
  • One of Charles’ early biographers compared him to Abraham Lincoln because of their common melancholy and pensiveness of mood. These two brave men shared another commonality. They shared a way of doing life in which good humor was sought out and collected in order to give vent for their moods and gloom.
  • Charles summarizes this collection of helps. “Beyond all medicine, stimulant, cordial, or lecturing,” he says, “I commend quiet hours in calm retreats.” In a generation, in which the medicines that existed were crude and less helpful, Charles chiefly commended nature and rest as a way of healing. In sum, medication for our bodily and mental illnesses is an aid and gift, but even our best medications remain limited. Medicines help us, but rarely in isolation from other helps.
  • Medicines, good humor, rest, nature, baths, diet, scheduling our days according to our limits, therapy and pastoral counsel, each of these is given for our aid and offer us great help.
  • May I say it plainly? Sometimes in our depression we, or those we love, want to die. No amount of promises or prayers, medicines or warm baths can make us immune to this desire. Like the man of sorrows we are worn thin and tired. But unlike him, we lose sight of the joy set before us. We can no longer hold on to the larger story and yet we remain fully conscious of an accumulation of anguishes. We let go of hope. Or we choose to hope in death or in Jesus beyond the grave.
  • In other words, Charles approached our desire to die in our sufferings, not with distant critique or calloused faith-checking, but with depth and affirmation. Why? To understand and to be understood.
  • Suicide is not the unpardonable sin. The follower of Jesus is not lost, because of this heinous act. This gives us who remain hope for those we’ve loved. And yet, the sad consequences remain, not only for those who chose suicide but for those left behind who loved them. Just as other sins are paid for by Christ, so this one is too. But just as other sins damage ourselves and others, this one is no exception. We forfeit the future we could have known. We inflict terrible harm on those who love us and whom we loved. We give ourselves over to the very things that Jesus died to save us from. Forgiven and home with Him, yes! Yes! But much that must be paid for by Jesus and healed.
  • In common with the entire history of humanity, what we sufferers want to know is “Why?”
  • After all, sometimes sufferers say a strange thing. They give thanks for what they’ve suffered.
  • Many who wish that their suffering didn’t happen nonetheless tell us that they have come to learn good things, which they otherwise would not.
  • We often mix-up what Jesus treasures with what Jesus willingly gets rid of. Sorrows reveal where we’ve been wide eyed for brand new nothings and overlooked old treasures.
  • Our sorrows belong to Jesus. He is their master no matter what fiendish thought or unexplainable cause gave them birth.

Not by SightNot by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith by Jon Bloom. Crossway. 208 pages. 2013.
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This is a book that I have wanted to read for some time. When the Kindle edition was recently put on sale I took the opportunity to finally read it.

About the book, Jon Bloom who works at Desiring God writes: “The purpose of this little book is to imaginatively reflect on the real experiences of real people in the Bible in order to help you grasp and live what it means to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and . . . not lean on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5). Its goal is to help you believe in Jesus while living in a very confusing and painful world.”

The book is comprised of several short chapters. I highlighted a number of passages and want to share some of them with you below:

“WHERE IS YOUR FAITH?” JAMES ZEBEDEE AND FEAR Luke 8:22–25

  • What Jesus did for James and the other disciples when he quieted the storm was a fear-transfer. One moment they feared the storm and the next moment they feared Jesus, with a holy, reverent fear. This storm was a gift from God to them because it taught them just how powerful Jesus was and deepened their faith in him. And it prepared them to weather other, even more deadly kinds of storms that lay ahead of them.
  • When the storms of life hit, they almost always appear stronger to us than God’s Word. It is crucial for us to remember that our perceptions can be deceptive. When circumstances strike fear into our hearts, the question we must ask ourselves is, where is your faith?  What God wants is for you to trust what he says over what you see.

“NEITHER DO I CONDEMN YOU” THE ADULTERESS AND GUILT Luke 8:22–25

  • Here’s where the news gets really good. God fully intended for this sin of adultery to be punished to the full extent of his law. But she would not bear her punishment. She would go free. This young teacher, who would not condemn her, would be condemned in her place.
  • In a sense, every one of us is that woman. Our horrible sins—our shameful lusts, destructive tongues, murderous hatred, corrupting greed, covetous pride—stand exposed before God as starkly as in that temple courtyard. Our condemnation is deserved.  And yet, if you believe in Jesus, he speaks these stunning words to you: “Neither do I condemn you.” Why? Because he has been condemned in your place.

SHE STILL HAD TO GO HOME THE ADULTERESS AND SIN’S CONSEQUENCES Based on John 8:2–11

  • And that’s the hope we all need. We need the hope that we have been justified by the substitutionary atonement of Jesus. And we need the hope of the promise of Romans 8:28, that God will work all things, even the fallout from our past sins, together for good for us.  God’s grace was sufficient for this woman, both to cover her sins and redeem her life. And, likewise, his grace will be sufficient for you.

DOUBT IN THE DARKNESS JOHN THE BAPTIST AND DOUBT Luke 7:18–28

  • In John’s darkness and pain, Jesus sent a promise to sustain John’s faith. He will do the same for you.

DISMEMBERING AN IDOL ZACCHAEUS AND IDOLATRY Based on Luke 19:1–10

  • Some of our idols need to be dismembered for us to be free of them. Jesus knows what they are and how to help us see them. It may feel like we are losing our world to lose them.

WHY ARE YOU DISAPPOINTED? JOSEPH BARSABBAS AND DISAPPOINTMENT Acts 1:15–26

  • “Disappointment is similar to anger in that there are legitimate and illegitimate reasons to feel it. If some evil has caused the event of our disappointment, the emotion could be right because evil defiles God’s glory. But whatever the cause, if our emotion is growing in the soil of love and faith, it will produce a righteous fruit, like contentment or just action or gracious forbearance. But if its roots are in the soil of selfishness, it will bear unrighteous fruit, like jealousy and selfish ambition, which are themselves evil and defile God’s glory.”
  • “The emotion of disappointment is never neutral, Primus. It is not vague and detached. It has roots directly connected to something we believe. Jesus wants you follow the roots. If you find that sin is feeding your emotion of disappointment, then your event of disappointment is a kindness meant to lead you to repentance.

CAN YOU BEAR UNCERTAINTY? WOULD-BE DISCIPLE AND PROVISION Luke 9:57

  •  Apparently uncertain seasons are often some of the most powerful moments we experience with God in this age. More than seasons of security and prosperity, they demonstrate that God exists and rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6).
  • So if you are in one of those seasons, take heart. God is graciously allowing you to experience the reality that he “acts for those who wait for him” (Isa. 64:4).

“I WILL NEVER BELIEVE” THOMAS AND SKEPTICISM John 20:24–29

  •  Be patient and gracious with the skeptics in your life. Don’t assume their outward confidence accurately reflects their inward condition. Keep praying for them and share what seems helpful when it seems helpful. Keep confidently and humbly following Jesus. And trust his timing. He knows best how and when to reveal himself to them.

THE NIGHT THE ANGEL DIDN’T COME JAMES ZEBEDEE AND DEATH Acts 12:1–2

  •  Why did God let James die? This question is relevant because at some point most of us will find ourselves facing death, pleading for deliverance, and not receiving what we think we are asking for. And it points to a difficult lesson that all of Jesus’s disciples must learn: Jesus often has different priorities than we do. What may feel desperately urgent to us may not be urgent to him—at least not in the same way.
  • And we also need to remember James, who faced death “refusing to accept release that [he] might rise again to a better life” (Heb. 11:35). There is the real key to understanding Acts 12:2: Jesus let James die because he had a better life to give him.
  • There will come a time when Jesus’s prayer for us to be with him will overrule our prayer for prolonged earthly life. And when it does, we will experience a life so far better, richer, fuller, purer, and more joyful that we will shake our heads in wonder that we ever pleaded to stay.

FACING A PAINFUL DECISION JOSEPH THE CARPENTER AND GUIDANCE Matthew 1:18–25

  •  God will not spare us from all awkward and painful decisions. Neither will he spare us from all wrong decisions resulting from our fallen finiteness, even if they are made in the integrity of our hearts. God has his purposes in all of these. But what we can trust him to do is faithfully give us the correction and guidance we need at the time he deems right.

STABLES OF DESPERATION ARE THE BIRTHPLACES OF GOD’S GRACE JOSEPH THE CARPENTER AND TRUST Luke 2:1–7

  •  And in that is a Christmas word to us. There are times, while seeking to follow God faithfully, we find ourselves in a desperate moment, forced to a place we would not choose to go. It’s then we must remember: our lives and circumstances are not ultimately about us (1 Cor. 6:19–20). They are about Jesus Christ
  • In your place of desperation it may be that what you need most is not less turmoil, but more trust. For God chooses stables of desperation as the birthplaces of his overwhelming grace.

(UN)PLANNED DETOURS JOSEPH THE CARPENTER AND GUIDANCE Matthew 1–2

  • Like Joseph’s, the unplanned, inefficient detours of our lives are planned by God. God’s ways are not our ways (Isa. 55:8–9). They are frequently bewildering to us, but they are always better because God is orchestrating far more than we see or know in every unexpected event and delay. So when you find yourself suddenly moving in a direction you had not planned, take heart; the Great Planner has something much better in mind for you and countless others.

“DO NOT BE AFRAID” JEHOSHAPHAT AND FEAR 2 Chronicles 20:1–30

  • You see, real freedom is not liberty to do what we want or the absence of distress. Real freedom is the deep-seated confidence that God really will provide everything we need. The person who believes this is the freest of all persons on earth, because no matter what situation he finds himself in, he has nothing to fear.
  • But the only way for sinners like us, with a bent toward unbelief in God, to find this kind of freedom is by experiencing repeatedly God’s delivering power and his faithfulness. That’s why we are “to count it all joy . . . when we meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). These trials are making us free.

WHAT LOVE FOR GOD LOOKS LIKE SIMON THE PHARISEE AND WORSHIP Luke 7:36–50

  • “He who is forgiven little, loves little.” This little sentence reveals a mammoth truth for us: we will love God to the degree that we recognize the magnitude of our sins and the immensity of God’s grace to forgive them.
  • For at its essence, true worship is a passionate love for God, not moralistic rule keeping or feats of self-discipline.

WHEN A ROCK SUNK SLOWLY PETER AND FAITH Matthew 14:13–33 and John 6:1–21

  • Lesson 1: Faith is not faith in our faith in Jesus, its faith in the power of Jesus’s word.
  • Lesson 2: Jesus’s word is truer and stronger than what we see or feel, and when we doubt that, sometimes he graciously lets us sink to help us refocus.

FAITH THAT MAKES JESUS MARVEL THE CENTURION AND FAITH Luke 7:1–10

  • It is a gospel irony that the only person recorded in the Gospels whose faith made Jesus marvel was a Roman soldier.
  • The man with the greatest faith in Israel was a centurion who simply knew who Jesus was, what he was able to do, humbly asked him, and trusted that he would receive what he needed. He really believed in Jesus.  That is still the faith that makes Jesus marvel.

ARE YOU CONTENT WITH WEAKNESSES? PAUL AND HUMILITY 2 Corinthians 11–12

  • But one of the precious gifts of 2 Corinthians is that, through Paul, God teaches us a great gospel paradox of the life of faith: God’s grace is more clearly seen and more deeply savored in our weaknesses than in our strengths.
  • Like he did for Paul, the Lord has assigned certain weaknesses to you. Are you content with them?
  • Here’s the secret: the more aware you are of God’s grace, the more humble, prayerful, thankful, patient, gracious, content, and joyful you will be. And you are more aware of God’s grace when you are weak than when you are strong.
  • God will use the strengths he has given you. He certainly used Paul’s strengths. But if it’s contentment in God that you long for, then thank God for your weaknesses. Because it is through them that you and others will really know that God’s grace is sufficient for you.

ASK! THE LEPER AND PROVISION Matthew 8:1–4

  • “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11). Sometimes the good thing is healing. Sometimes the good thing is affliction so that we know more profoundly just how sufficient God’s grace is for us (2 Cor. 12:9). But even if healing is delayed, it will come.

“DO YOU BELIEVE THIS?” MARTHA AND DEATH John 11:1–44

  • God only ordains our deep disappointment and profound suffering for the sake of far greater joy in the glory he will reveal to us (Rom. 8:18). It is crucial to remind one another of this. Before we know what Jesus is doing, circumstances can look all wrong. And we are tempted to interpret God’s apparent inaction as unloving, when in fact God is loving us in the most profound way he possibly can.

WHEN YOU AREN’T SURE WHAT TO DO NEXT PETER AND WAITING John 21:1–14

  • First, waiting on Jesus is a common experience for disciples.
  • Second, when we’re not sure what to do next, as Elisabeth Elliot says, “do the next thing.”
  • Third, Jesus is in complete control.
  • Fourth, Jesus is always serving us, even when we can’t see it.

JESUS CHOOSES AND USES FAILURES PETER AND RESTORATION John 21:15–19

  • The guilt of past failures and sins can haunt and inhibit us in many ways. Satan loves to bind us up with the chains of condemnation. But Jesus aims to set us completely free.
  • Peter’s failure did not define him. And ours will not define us. They are horrible, humbling stumbles along the path of following Jesus. And Jesus paid for them all on the cross. He has settled our accounts with the Father and given us guiltlessness as a free gift of his love.

WHEN A REBUKE BECAME A REWARD ZECHARIAH AND UNBELIEF Luke 1

  • God’s grace toward his children is infused in everything he does for us, even when he chastens us.

HOPE FOR OUR BELOVED UNBELIEVERS JESUS’S SIBLINGS AND EVANGELISM John 7:5

  • So as we assess the role our weak, stumbling witness plays in our family members’ unbelief, let’s remember Jesus—not even a perfect witness guarantees that loved ones will see and embrace the gospel.
  • So take heart! Don’t give up praying for unbelieving family members. Don’t take their resistance as the final word. They may yet believe, and be used significantly in the kingdom.

SUCCESS CAN BE PERILOUS KING DAVID AND SELFISHNESS 2 Samuel 11–12

  • The greatest enemy of our souls is the pathologically selfish pride at the core of our fallen natures. If we look deep enough, this is what we will find feeding the strong sinful cravings of our appetites.
  • And this is why prosperity can be so spiritually dangerous. We tend to see our need for God more clearly in adversity. But seasons of success can be our most perilous because we are so easily deceived into thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think (Rom. 12:3).

GOD’S PURPOSES CAN BE OPPOSITE OF OUR PERCEPTIONS THE MAN BORN BLIND AND SUFFERING John 9

  • Let us be very careful in interpreting God’s purposes in suffering—our own or someone else’s. Often we cannot see any redeeming reason for it.
  • The man born blind reminds us that our perceptions and God’s purposes can be very different, even opposite.

THE EYES JESUS OPENED FIRST CLEOPAS AND DISILLUSIONMENT Luke 24:13–35

  • When God ordains things to happen contrary to our expectations (like Cleopas not expecting Jesus to die), those are times when we are tempted to doubt his Word—lose faith—and as a result lose sight of him. But not being able to see him doesn’t mean that he isn’t right there walking with us. We may simply not recognize him. Unbelief is blinding. Those are not the times to neglect his Word. Rather, that’s when we really need it most.

STAYING FAITHFUL WHEN THINGS GET WORSE JOSEPH AND PERSEVERANCE Sometime During Genesis 39:20–23

  • Sometimes faithfulness to God and his word sets us on a course where circumstances get worse, not better. It is then that knowing God’s promises and his ways are crucial. Faith in God’s future grace for us is what sustains us in those desperate moments.

SERVE IN THE SHADOW GOD PLACES YOU ANDREW AND HUMILITY Various Texts

  • Following Jesus isn’t about our prominence at all. It’s about Jesus’s prominence. Like the Twelve, we tend to lose sight of this easily.
  • Today, be content with what you have (Heb. 13:5) and be faithful with what you have been given (Matt. 25:21). Humble yourself under God’s mighty hand, trusting that he will exalt you at the proper time and in the proper way (1 Pet. 5:6).

“FOLLOW ME” LEVI AND GRACE Luke 5:27–32; Matthew 9:9–13; Mark 2:13–17

THE ONLY THING THAT qualifies us to be followers of Jesus is that we are sinners who need grace.

  • Jesus did not call us because of our righteousness or gifting. He called us when we were dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1) and blinded by the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4). He called us when all we had was need.

WHEN FOLLOWING JESUS MEANS GOING HOME THE GADARENE AND APPOINTMENT Luke 8:26–39

  • But sometimes following Jesus means being sent back to a place where we once knew desolation and indescribable anguish. The thought of returning there conjures up fear of our old demons and the people who knew us as we were back then. But Jesus sends us back because it is there that the grace of God in our lives will shine the brightest.

Bloom’s next book will be Things Not Seen: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Trusting God’s Promises, which will be published July 31.
OrdinaryOrdinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World by Michael Horton. Zondervan. 218 pages. 2014
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Many will know Michael Horton as the host of the long-running and excellent radio program, The White Horse Inn. He teaches at Westminster Seminary California and is a frequent conference speaker.

The book’s cover and title is designed to look like David Platt’s Radical and the subtitle is a reference to Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless, Reformed. I don’t know if Horton had anything to do with that, or if it was the idea of the publisher. Regardless, even though I have read many of Horton’s previous books, knowing that he was going to offer another perspective on those books (which I enjoyed and benefited from), got my attention. Horton indicates that the book is not primarily a critique.

He writes: “My thesis in this book is that we must turn from the frantic search for “something more” to “something more sustainable.” We need to stop adding something more of ourselves to the gospel. We need to be content with the gospel as God’s power for salvation. We also need to be content with his ordinary means of grace that, over time, yield a harvest of plenty for everyone to enjoy.”

As he introduces his subject, Horton writes: “Like every other area of life, we have come to believe that growth in Christ — as individuals or as churches — can and should be programmed to generate predictable outcomes that are unrealistic and are not even justified biblically. We want big results — sooner rather than later. And we’ve forgotten that God showers his extraordinary gifts through ordinary means of grace, loves us through ordinary fellow image bearers, and sends us out into the world to love and serve others in ordinary callings.”

He goes on to state: “Even more than I’m afraid of failure, I’m terrified by boredom. Facing another day, with ordinary callings to ordinary people all around us is much more difficult than chasing my own dreams that I have envisioned for the grand story of my life.” Horton writes that he is convinced: “…that we have drifted from the true focus of God’s activity in this world. It is not to be found in the extraordinary, but in the ordinary, the everyday.”

In this book Horton encourages his readers back to the ordinary means available through the local church and to be content in our ordinary callings. As I read the book I felt it to be a bit disjointed. However, when I went back and reviewed the 127 passages I had highlighted I found a clear message. It is a message that will resonate with many, and may not be well received by others. However, I feel it is a message that needs to be heard. I recommend that you read this book – which includes helpful study questions at the end of each chapter – for yourself or with others. Regardless whether you do that, I recommend that you review the many quotes from this excellent book I offer below:

  • The problem is not that we are too active, but that we are recklessly frenetic. We have grown accustomed to quick fixes and easy solutions. We have grown accustomed to running sprints instead of training for the long-distance marathon. We have plenty of energy. The danger is that we will burn ourselves out on restless anxieties and unrealistic expectations.
  • To be clear, it’s not as if all of the values being promoted today by calls to be “radical” or invitations to change the world are wrong-headed or unbiblical. Taking a summer to build wells in Africa is, for some, a genuine calling. But so is fixing a neighbor’s plumbing, feeding one’s family, and sharing in the burdens and joys of a local church. What we are called to do every day, right where God has placed us, is rich and rewarding.
  • Being content with life means accepting the circumstances in which God’s providence has placed me.
  • The extraordinary weekend retreat was memorable, but it’s those ordinary moments filled with seemingly insignificant decisions, conversations, and touches that matter most. This is where most of life is lived.
  • The problem is, when people enter adulthood, they soon discover that a memorable experience will not compensate for a shallow understanding of what they believe and why they believe it — over years of everyday exposure to and participation in the communion of Christ with his people. Nevertheless, it’s precisely the ordinary ministry, week-in and week-out, that provides sustained growth and encourages the roots to grow deep.
  • Even Calvinism seems to have gotten back its groove, taking its place on the “Next Big Thing” list. According to Time magazine in March 2009, the “New Calvinism” is one of the top ten trends changing the world today. Collin Hansen’s movement-defining book sums it up pretty well: “Young, Restless, and Reformed.” But does this mean that it too is destined to become just another fad? It’s the “restless” part that is problematic. It threatens to redefine what it means to be Reformed.
  • In many ways, it’s more fun to be part of movements than churches. We can express our own individuality, pick our favorite leaders, and be swept off our feet at conferences. We can be anonymous. Although encouraged by like-minded believers, we are not bound up with them so that we should feel compelled to bear their burdens or suffer their rebukes. Yet this movement mentality keeps us restless and makes ordinary life in and submission to an actual church seem intolerably confining. And terribly ordinary.
  • We need to recover not only sound doctrine, but sounder practices that serve to deepen us — and succeeding generations — in the new creation that God has called into being. We need to question not only false teaching, but false values, expectations, and habits that we have absorbed, taken for granted, and even adopted with a veneer of piety.
  • If your personal relationship with Jesus is utterly unique, then it is not properly Christian.
  • This is not a call to do less, but to invest in things that we often give up on when we don’t see an immediate return.
  • Excellence requires caring about someone or something enough to invest time, effort, and skill into it, with God’s glory and our neighbor’s good as the goal. Biblically defined, true excellence has others in mind — first God, and then our neighbor.
  • In addition to the church’s mission, believers have their various callings in the communion of saints and also as parents and children, carpenters and doctors, friends and neighbors, volunteers and citizens. Some are called to positions of leadership in the City of God and the City of Man, while others play humbler but no less important roles. In either case, we are all called to excellence, according to the criteria appropriate to each calling’s object and aim.
  • Excellence means that whether God calls me to serve the poor in Calcutta or diners in a French restaurant, the simple fact that it is God’s calling renders it precious. “So . . . whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).
  • Excellence is a virtue when it has God’s glory and our neighbor’s good in view. Yet, as with all virtues, self-love turns this noble drive into a vice. It can take many forms. One of them is perfectionism.
  • Being “ordinary” means that we reject the idolatry of pursuing excellence for selfish reasons. We aren’t digging wells in Africa to prove our worth or value. We aren’t serving in the soup kitchen or engaging in spiritual disciplines because we long to be unique, radical, and different. When we do these things for selfish reasons, God becomes a tool for winning our lifetime achievement award. Our neighbors become instruments in the crafting of our sense of meaning, impact, and identity. What we do for God is really for ourselves.
  • We never offer up our good works to God for salvation, but extend them to our neighbors for their good. As a result, everyone benefits. God, who needs nothing from us, receives all of the glory; our neighbors receive gifts that God wants to give them through us; and we benefit both from the gifts of others and the joy that our own giving brings.
  • So here’s some relief to perfectionists out there: Give up! Stop climbing and fall into God’s gracious arms.
  • So get on with life, with love, with service — fully realizing that God already has the perfect service he requires of us in his Son and now our neighbor needs our imperfect help. Now, “Because of Christ alone, embraced through faith alone, for the glory of God and the good of our neighbors alone, on the basis of God’s Word alone” — and nothing more. This is the slogan of the ordinary Christian (Luke 10:27).
  • It is nothing new when young people want churches to pander to them. What is new is the extent to which churches have obliged.
  • If you are always looking for an impact, a legacy, and success, you will not take the time to care for the things that matter.
  • The key to maturity is time and community.
  • So it is time for all of us to grow up. It’s time for gifted communicators and leaders to become pastors, for restless souls to submit to the encouragement and correction in the body, for movements to give way to churches.
  • But perpetual reinvention dooms cultures — and churches — to passing shadows of momentary glamour with few lasting legacies beyond the trivial.
  • Movements are largely youth-driven, whereas institutions are usually run by elders. The challenge, especially in the church where we are drawn together in Christ from different ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, and generations, is to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3).
  • A lot of what has distinguished American culture — the cult of celebrity, youthfulness, and innovation — was born on the sawdust trail of the revivalists. The cult of The Next Big Thing — whether a new rock band, a diet fad, a political movement, or a spiritual explosion or religious crusade — is not the result simply of our captivity to culture; the wider cultural phenomenon may never have emerged without revivalism. In a society before TV, revivals were not just influenced by pop culture. They were pop culture.
  • There are two ways to understand revival. The first is to see it as a “surprising work of God,” God’s “extraordinary blessing on his ordinary means of grace.” That is how Jonathan Edwards saw it, as Ian Murray summarizes. God is utterly free to withhold or send revival as he pleases.
  • The second approach sees revival as something within our control — something that can be staged and managed with predictable results. If you follow the right steps, you’ll get the right outcomes.
  • There are numerous instructions in the New Testament on church offices and qualifications, preaching, the sacraments, public prayer, and discipline. In striking contrast, there are no instructions on — or even examples of — revival.
  • Many of the reasons we offer for needing revival (lethargy in evangelism and missions, lack of heartfelt experience of God’s grace, coldness in prayer, rising vice and infidelity, social evils, etc.) are problems that the ordinary ministry is supposed to address each week. Not only may the longing for revival lead us to treat this ministry as humdrum; it can subtly justify an unacceptable state of affairs in the meantime.
  • However, even when it is seen as a free work of God that we have no right to demand and no power to control, does focusing on revival contribute to our dissatisfaction with God’s ordinary blessing on his ordinary means? I’m inclined to think that it does — and has.
  • Is the intense longing for revival itself part of the problem, fueling the feverish expectation for The Next Big Thing? Is it not remarkable enough that Jesus Christ himself is speaking to us whenever his Word is preached each week?
  • If our Christian life is grounded in a radical experience, we will keep looking for repeat performances. Not slow growth in the same direction, but radical spikes in the graph. This keeps us always on the prowl for The Next Big Thing.
  • Our passion for life and achievement and our desire to strive toward a daring goal are essentially hardwired into us by God. What has changed since the fall is the direction of this drive.
  • When we are ambitious, each of us campaigns for the office of emperor. In the process, we’re tearing Christ’s body, our homes, our workplaces, and our society to pieces.
  • In his providence, God has given to each of us specific gifts, inclinations, talents, and opportunities. We are not unlimited. Our future is not “whatever we want it to be,” and we are not able to become “whatever we wish.” Yet all of this is for our good — and the good of others. The gifts and opportunities we have been given are to be used not merely for private advancement, but for the public good. And this is why we all need each other. In society, every sort of calling is needed for the commonwealth.
  • We all want to live for ourselves and yet be cared for, to have authority without responsibility, to be beneficiaries of the gift exchange without being benefactors. There’s nothing new there. What is somewhat new is that this consummate hubris is seen increasingly not as an evil to be repented of, but a basic human right.
  • Converted from vice to virtue, ambition was spurred by the trophy awarded to the high achievers. But now every kid receives a trophy just for showing up. We’re all extraordinary now. Every American is entitled to the best of everything. Ironically, the democratizing of ambition is undermining genuine distinction and excellence.
  • As far as Scripture is concerned, passionate drives can be godly or ungodly, but ambition cannot be channeled into good directions or harnessed for noble ends. It is the heart of the sinful self who must die and be raised with a new identity, a new name, a new hope, and a new way of existing — not in oneself, but “in Christ.”
  • The point of this brief survey is to remind ourselves that our habits are not simply shaped by our beliefs; our beliefs are also shaped by what we — not merely as individuals, but as a society evolving over generations — have come to accept and desire as good, true, and beautiful.
  • Notice again the contrast we have encountered before. On one side is the self-ordained “wandering star,” who gathers fans eager to hear the latest thing, especially if it flatters their own self-love (2 Tim 3:1 – 9). Ranging beyond his competence, he introduces new speculations that bring controversy and rivalry. He is all over the map, taking hapless victims with him on his ambitious journey toward the sun. Then there is Timothy, who is an ordinary minister accountable to ordinary elders, who is simply supposed to “guard the good deposit entrusted to [him]” (2 Tim 1:14) and “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim 6:12) with “steadfastness” (6:11).
  • What is the takeaway from this? What does it say to us today? I believe it means that we desperately need more Timothys and a lot fewer would-be Pauls in the church. We need to wean ourselves away from identifying particular churches as “So-And-So’s church,” from identifying the church with gifted speakers and charismatic leaders.
  • In Lutheran and Reformed churches, we are divided less over movements and leaders than by schools and scholars. At their best, our Reformed and Presbyterian churches unite around the biblical teaching summarized by the ecumenical creeds, confessions, and catechisms and require mutual submission of equal pastors and elders to local and broader assemblies.
  • There is something distinctive — and, to some extent, distinctively American — about the penchant for rivalries and factions. It is not even the disputed views that interest us as much as it is the line drawing. As C. S. Lewis observed, we all want to be in the “inner ring,” like the cool kids at school. It’s collective narcissism. We love to divide over various formulations and to form caucuses. Blogging only adds fuel to the fire. Something happens even to decent people when they can hide behind the computer screen.
  • But now there is tremendous pressure placed on pastors to be persons we like. We go to a particular church because we really connect with Jim. We tell people that we go to “Jim’s church.” We love Jim’s ministry as if it were his personal base of influence rather than Christ’s ministry that he shares with every other pastor.
  • One example of the tendency to shift our focus from the ministry to the ministers, I believe, is the proliferation of multi-site churches.
  • My concern, however, is that the model is more susceptible to a greater focus on the minister than on the ministry.
  • Such a pattern runs against the grain of the incarnation. It is not virtual presence but a real presence that Christ gives us when he speaks and acts among us.
  • A second problem is “itinerancy.” It means a state of traveling from place to place.
  • This burden of extraordinary impact weighs heavily, first, on the shoulders of pastors. But here is the good news: it is not your ministry, church, or people. You do not have to create and protect a personal legacy, but simply to distribute and guard Christ’s legacy entrusted to his apostles. You don’t have to bind Satan and storm the gates of hell. Christ has already done this. We’re just sweeping in behind him to unlock the prison doors. You don’t have to live the gospel, be the gospel, do the gospel, and lead the troops to redeem culture and reconcile the world to God.
  • The cure for selfish ambition and restless devotion to The Next Big Thing is contentment.
  • In most cases, impatience with the ordinary is at the root of our restlessness and rootlessness. We’re looking for something more to charge our lives with interest, meaning, and purpose. Instead of growing like a tree, we want to grow like a forest fire.
  • Imagine the difference that a covenantal way of thinking could make in our view of church membership, in our marriage and family life, and in our relationships with others at work and in the neighborhood. When everything turns on my free will, relationships — even with God — are contracts that we make and break. When everything turns on God’s free grace, relationships — even with each other — become gifts and responsibilities that we accept as God’s choice and will for our good and his glory.
  • Imagine Jesus learning Mary’s favorite psalms and asking Joseph questions in the shop about God and life while they were making chairs. Daily, ordinary, seemingly little stuff that turns out to be big after all.
  • To be content with Christ’s kingdom is to be satisfied also with his ordinary means of grace.
  • Sure, there are sermons. We need good teachers. But surely a growing church needs something more impressive that will catch people’s attention than the regular proclamation of and instruction in God’s Word.
  • And yet, our King tells us that “faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). Through the lips of a fellow sinner, Christ judges, justifies, and renews us here and now.
  • Of course, God can do as he wishes, and it is not wrong to pray for miracles. Yet we have no promise in Scripture that those prayers will be answered in the way that we had hoped. We do have God’s promise that he will perform the greatest signs and wonders through the preaching of his Word and the administration of his sacraments.
  • CNN will not be showing up at a church that is simply trusting God to do extraordinary things through his ordinary means of grace delivered by ordinary servants. But God will. Week after week.
  • True contentment, therefore, comes first from resting in Christ.
  • Contentment is the virtue that contrasts with restlessness, ambition, avarice. It means realizing, once again, that we are not our own — as pastors or parishioners, parents or children, employers or employees. It is the Lord’s to give and to take away.
  • Even our common callings in the world are not really our own, but they are God’s work of supplying others — including ourselves — with what the whole society needs. There is a lot of work to be done, but it is his work that he is doing through us in daily and mostly ordinary ways.
  • The shift from catechism classes to Sunday school, and then to the youth group, tended to distance believers from the church at precisely the moment that they were supposed to take that next step of maturity.
  • I am questioning the factors that have gone into this transition from the apostolic model (older teaching younger, as in Titus 2:4) to one that is more culturally driven.
  • More than heroes, though, we need a Savior. Then we also need ordinary people around us who exemplify godly qualities and take the time to invest in our lives.
  • First, the call to radical transformation of society can easily distract faith’s gaze from Christ and focus it on ourselves. Such people hold that the gospel has to be something more than the good news concerning Christ’s victory.
  • Second, radical views of cultural transformation actually harm our callings in the world. The most basic problem is that it reverses the direction of God’s gift giving.
  • Third, despite its affirmation of our callings in the world, the call to change the world undervalues ordinary vocations that actually keep God’s gifts circulating.
  • Fourth, the call to radical transformation of society can feed a spiritualized version of upward mobility. If direct cultural impact is the goal, it’s easy to adopt an elitism that places a premium on high-profile callings.
  • Fifth, the culture-transforming mission can backfire in the other direction, against those who are in fact called to be novelists, painters, physicists, senators, and academics. They too are called by God to ordinary labors in the common culture that they share with non-Christians. When we expect them to somehow advance Christ’s kingdom as the elite guard in his culture war, the result is often disastrous.
  • The alternative to the ideal of cultural transformation is not passivity. Much less does Scripture allow a separation of one’s calling in Christ from one’s callings in the world. We are not Christians at prayer and pagans at work.
  • The question is not whether God rules over the kingdoms of the earth right now, but how he reigns over his church through saving grace and over the earthly powers through common grace.
  • Regardless of the role or place in society to which God has assigned us by our calling, we are content. Our identity is already determined by our being “in Christ,” not by our accomplishments. The measure of excellence is daily love for our neighbors during this time between Christ’s two advents.
  • We don’t need another hero. We need a Savior, one who possessed “no form or majesty that we should look at him,” and yet bore our sins (Isa 53:2 – 3).
  • We need ordinary believers of every generation, race, and socioeconomic background to whom we’re united by baptism to one Lord and one faith by one Spirit. We simply need ordinary pastors to deliver the word of life and its sacraments faithfully, elders to guide us to maturity, and deacons to help keep the temporal gifts circulating in the body.
  • We need to reduce the distractions and voracious consumption. Many things that we do as “something more” aren’t bad in themselves. Yet collectively they contribute to a whirling buzz of confusion that keeps us from fixing our eyes on Christ and his kingdom and his ordinary means of grace. We never move on from the gospel to something else.
  • We also need to reuse the resources that God has given us from the past. Forms that frame the public service — common prayer, praise, and confession — are ways of thoughtfully drawing on Scripture so that Christ’s word dwells in all of us richly.
  • We also need to recycle. This involves two moves: returning to the sources and adapting them to our time and place.
  • Chasing the latest fad for spiritual growth, church growth, and cultural impact, we eventually forget both how to reach the lost and how to keep the reached. The ordinary means of grace become yesterday’s news. Like pay phones, so we are told by emergent entrepreneurs, ordinary churches may still be around here and there, but nobody uses them.
  • It seems to me that there is increasingly less interest in personal prayer and meditation on God’s Word than in any time since the Middle Ages. It suggests that when public disciplines (especially the weekly service) lose their hold on us, family and private disciplines are sure to follow.
  • We need to rethink our priorities here, and recovering an appreciation for the ordinary is at least one step in that direction. We grow by ordinary, daily, habitual practices. The weekly service of the Word and sacrament, along with its public confession of sin and faith, the prayers, and praise, are the fountain that flows into our homes and private rooms throughout the week. It is all of these disciplines — public, family, and private — that we need to recover.
  • Unintentionally, the net effect of youth ministry has been largely to alienate younger generations from the ordinary life and ministry of the church.
  • If our young people leave for college without having been grounded in the truth and wrestling honestly with their doubts, we shouldn’t be surprised that they sleep in on Sunday in college. As it is, I fear that we are sending many young people into a battle unarmed.
  • This chapter focuses on the importance of staying at our posts to which God has called us: as children, parents, extended family, neighbors, coworkers, and citizens. We need to stop looking for extraordinary callings to give meaning to our lives, which often encourage us to think of others as tools in our self-crafting. It’s not “the needy” who need us, but particular people — many of whom we come across every day. Our neighbor is right in front of us.
  • The intensity of the prepping for adult success, especially by Boomer and Buster parents, has caused a lot of stress for boys, but girls may be a larger casualty.
  • Trying to live up to their own dreams and those that society and parents have placed on them, many young women are putting off marriage and especially children.
  • But what I do want to challenge is the particular stress of being “superwoman.”
  • I’m only suggesting that the burdens we place on women — even from childhood — make them anxious about life and drive them to expect dissatisfaction with the normal and everyday aspects of life that are so crucial for the development of deep roots, wisdom, and nurture for the whole family.
  • Ambition encourages us to make two mistakes. First, we become consumed with our work. Second, we try to make up for it by “quality time”: major investments in family vacations.
  • Our families, including us, do not need more quality time, but more quantity time. That’s when most of the best things happen.
  • We are passive receivers of the gift of salvation, but we are thereby rendered active worshipers in a life of thanksgiving that is exhibited chiefly in loving service to our neighbors.
  • Instead of living in monasteries, committing their lives in service to themselves and their own salvation, or living in castles, commanding the world to mirror the kingdom of Christ, Luther argues, believers should love and serve their neighbors through their vocations in the world, where their neighbors need them. “God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does.”
  • The Next Big Thing is not another Pentecost or another apostle or another political or social cause. It is Christ’s return.
  • The ordinary life — sustainable discipleship and disciple-making — is the order of the day, as we live each moment in eager expectation of The Next Big Thing on God’s schedule.
  • What if you knew that Jesus would return tomorrow morning?
  • However, wiser Christians remind us that being found at our daily callings, glorifying and enjoying God in ordinary ways, is a better answer.
  • We can live with the ordinary world, with its common curse and common grace, with our ordinary growth in Christ through the ordinary means of grace, and with our ordinary callings in the family, the church, and the world. We can be content in the ups and downs, because we have every spiritual blessing in Christ and we share it with our fellow saints in the exchange of gifts.

Why SufferingWhy Suffering? Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn’t Make Sense by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale. Faithwords. 223 pages. 2014. Audiobook read by the authors
** ½

Suffering is a question that all of us deal with. I had previously read Tim Keller’s excellent 2013 treatment of the subject Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering (you can find my review on our Tim Keller book review page), but I very much appreciate Ravi Zacharias’ ministry and wanted to read this book on the subject as well. Ravi writes this book with Vince Vitale (who did his PhD work on suffering), from his ministry’s Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics.

The book is designed to appeal to a large cross-section of readers (believers and skeptics), as the authors combine both an apologetic (defense) approach as well as a pastoral perspective. It was written for the Christian struggling for an answer, the seeker who thinks suffering disproves God’s existence, and the sufferer who needs a glimpse of a loving God.

The authors carefully walk the reader through a variety of responses that considered together they try to provide a comprehensive convincing answer. Some of the responses they offer are:

• Where there is the possibility of love, there has to be the reality of freedom, and therefore the possibility of pain.
• Wishing God had made a different world is to wish yourself out of existence.
• The reality of evil only makes sense in light of the reality of divine goodness.
• Relational knowledge about God takes the argument beyond reason alone to the presence of God amidst suffering.
• God’s decision to allow temporal suffering must be viewed from an eternal perspective.
• Divine goodness shows how to conquer not in spite of, but even through suffering.

The authors each write individual chapters. I listened to the audiobook version of the book which was read by the authors. I found the audiobook version was more conducive to Vitale’s more practical sections than it was to Zacharias’ philosophical and apologetic approach. Zacharias writes on the responses of freedom and morality, and how the Christian answer to suffering compares to Buddhism, Islam and naturalism. Vitale writes about grace, the Cross and hope. Both authors weave in numerous illustrations in their chapters.

In Zacharias’ introduction he writes that the issue of pain and suffering is vital to people’s lack of belief in God. He discusses the trilemma of:

• God being all powerful
• God being loving
• Evil existing

Below are a few notes I made as I listened to the book:

• Brokenness is in us. God can remove the pain each time we pray to Him, or change us from within. He changes our hearts and walks with us.
• Pain has a legitimate place in our lives. It calls us to our Savior.
• Pain and suffering started with the fall. We are responsible for pain and suffering because of the fall.
• Why is suffering allowed to continue? Perhaps in part because God desired to create a community of individuals and allowing suffering to continue allowed Him to get precisely the community He desired. A community including all of us.
• Without suffering we would not have existed in the first place.
• Through procreation we bring children into a life of suffering and death, but we also give them life.
• We have a God who has suffered for us. Jesus’ death is the ultimate love for us.
• Jesus took the consequences that lead to death so that we can take the consequences that lead to repentance, freedom, and eternal life.
• The deepest betrayal is against the one who knows us best.
• Jesus died for our suffering, our sin and for our shame.
• The music of a nation reveals much about what the people are thinking.
• God can help us conquer through suffering not just in spite of it.
• There is no reason to think that the world outside is going to be kind to us.
• We have sin in our life. So much of our suffering is because we are not the people we were created to be.
• Redemption – Jesus is in the business of revising expectations and reviving hope.
• External redemption – When God redeems us, this begins the transforming of the world outside us as well. Suffering remains, but now it is experienced with a God who is stronger than the suffering.
• Interestingly, the problem of suffering brought up more in East, where there is more suffering, than in the West.
• We are strengthened at times when we are around suffering. (This reminded me of how years ago as Tammy and I left the hospital each week after serving as Hospice volunteers we were somehow encouraged by the families of loved ones who were dying).
• Many turn to faith after suffering.
• Many of the narratives in the Bible are about suffering, including that of Job, who asked “Why?”
• One day soon will take Christians out of suffering.
• With God we have reason for hope.
• There are a number of responses to suffering. The one that resonates with you today, may not be the one that does 5 years from now.

I have to admit that overall I was disappointed with this book. I found it disjointed (perhaps because there were two authors who wrote individual chapters). I also found it too philosophical and not practical enough. I try to come away from every book I read with some new perspectives and with something I can use. I didn’t feel like I got that from this book. It was really a struggle for me to finish the book.

Although I found the information about the responses of Buddhism, Islam and naturalism to suffering interesting, and had studied that in seminary, there is not much I can do with that information. As a Christian, I was looking at the book from the perspective of a Christian. That being said, I do understand that RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) is an apologetics organization, and much, if not the majority of their ministry is directed to the non-believer.

Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale discussed the problem of evil and suffering at The Veritas Forum at Johns Hopkins University 2013 – http://veritas.org/talks/problem-suffering-and-goodness-god1/

Eric Metaxas book - MiraclesMiracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life by Eric Metaxas. Dutton Adult. 352 pages. 2014. Audiobook read by Fred Sanders.
***
Eric Metaxas is an excellent writer of biographies on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and William Wilberforce. His new book is a departure from the biography genre. As a result, I was somewhat apprehensive when I saw what the subject of the book was. Metaxas writes that we have no record of anything miraculous happening in the lives of Bonhoeffer or Wilberforce.

Do miracles still exist today? That depends on how you define a miracle. Metaxas states that there is no standard definition of a miracle. He shares definitions from Webster’s Dictionary and from C.S. Lewis. Metaxas believes that miracles exist today, and he shares many of them in this book, stating that many people have been saved as a result of miracles.

Theologian R.C. Sproul may disagree with Metaxas’ definition of a miracle. Check out this article “Does R.C. Sproul Believe in Miracles?”

Metaxas defines a miracle as when something outside time and space enters time and space. He states that miracles are signs that point to the God behind the miracle. He goes on to state that God causes miracles to make Himself known and communicate with people. As a result, he writes that if a miracle happens in the woods and nobody sees it, it’s not a miracle. A miracle is God acting beyond this world. Miracles are by God and God alone.

Metaxas takes three chapters to look at miracles and science, looking at the astronomical odds against the “Big Bang” taking place, instead indicating that the creation points at evidence for a Designer. He also writes that many in science today (he frequently quotes John Lennox, a Cambridge Mathematician) see no conflict between science and faith.

Metaxas asks that if we believe that God created the universe, can’t we believe that He could do almost everything else including a virgin birth? He stresses the need for a critical examination of what is claimed to be a miracle, indicating that we have to discern fake miracles from real ones. Real miracles can withstand that critical examination. Just because something seemingly miraculous took place, doesn’t mean that it was a true miracle.

He states that human life on earth is a miracle. The earth, sun and moon had to be just as they are in order for life on earth to be possible. He shares the statistical impossibility of life on earth, and then addresses the statistical impossibility of life in our universe.

He addresses questions about miracles, including why they happen to some people and not to others. He states that if God always answered our prayers the way we wanted them answered it wouldn’t be miraculous, but expected. If all we want is the gift (miracle) but don’t care about the Giver, we haven’t thought things through very well. If all we care about is the result, we are making the result our “god”.

Metaxas writes that it is not our faith that brings about the outcome (referring here to the so-called ‘Prosperity Gospel’). It is the God to whom we pray that does the miracle. What are the presuppositions we bring to the topic of miracles? Some may be able to believe in healings for example, but can’t believe that Jonah was in the belly of a fish.

Metaxas looks at the miracles of the Bible. The New Testament miracles are signs that point beyond the miracle. A miracle is a sign from beyond this world pointing us to the God beyond this world.  He discusses the resurrection, stating that it is central to the Christian faith. Without it Christianity is useless and we are the most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15: 14-19).

The second part of the book is devoted to miracle stories. Metaxas states that in looking at stories, you have to consider the source. As a result, the stories are about people that he knows, including a few about himself.

The stories are in the following categories:

  • Conversion stories
  • Healing miracles
  • Miracles of inner healing – grief, bitterness, forgiveness, guilt.
  • Angelic miracles
  • Miracles of God communicating with us. These are stories of God wanting us to know that He is with us. Included is a dream that Metaxas had which led him to write his book on Bonhoeffer.

Was I convinced that all of the stories included in the book were miracles? Were some instead works of God’s providence? Does that really matter? The book has served to help me open my eyes and think outside of my rather rigid theological box. I pray that this book will lead many to the God that these signs point to.Metaxas recently appeared on Steve Brown, Etc., one of my favorite podcasts. Check it out here: http://www.keylife.org/shows/miracles-eric-metaxasI listened to the audiobook version of the book, which was well read by Fred Sanders.

Francis Chan bookYou and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity by Francis Chan and Lisa Chan. Claire Love Publishing 192 pages. 2014. Audiobook read by Francis and Lisa Chan
****

The latest book from Francis Chan, one of my favorite authors, is on the subject of marriage, and is written with his wife Lisa. They have been married for 20 years and have 5 children. This book has very much of an eternal focus, which is so different from the previous book I read (Heaven is a Place on Earth by Michael Wittner).  Most of the book is written by Francis, with each chapter having a section written by Lisa. There is a focus on action in the book. I listened to the audiobook, and enjoyed that it was read by Francis and Lisa.

Although this is billed as a marriage book, it was more of a book about living as a child of God, with sections on marriage and parenting included. Francis and Lisa look at life, marriage and parenting in light of:

• Eternity
• The Gospel
• God’s Mission
• God’s Promises

Francis mentions early in the book that our relationship with God is the most important relationship that we have. The way to have a great marriage is by not focusing on marriage, but on Christ.  He also indicates that based on Jesus’ words, there will be no marriage in Heaven. This saddens me, but I know that what God has planned for us in Heaven will exceed anything that we can imagine.  Francis writes that this world is not our home and that nothing will truly comfort us but to get to our true home. He writes of a longing for Heaven and rewards, but that we must be patient, something we are generally not very good at.

Francis tells us that we (as the church) are the bride of Christ, and that there is no greater love story. He tells us that there is no point in working to improve your marriage until you are secure in Christ. It is also pointless to talk about how to have a strong marriage to those who do not have the Holy Spirit. Our lives and marriages have a place to play in God’s Story. He encourages us to pursue being like Christ, being humble.

Ephesians 5: 22-33, the classic passage on marriage, is addressed by both Francis and Lisa. Francis indicates that the best way to take the passage is literally, though he admits that some would disagree with that. Francis addresses the section of the passage that deals with men and Lisa the section that addresses women.

Francis asks what we can do today to ensure that we and our families spend eternity with God. He states that his most frequent prayer is for the salvation of his children.  Lisa writes that sometimes we desire things from our spouses that only God can provide. She tells of a time when Francis called her out on that.

In parenting for the glory of God, Francis writes that first of all we should teach our children about God. We shouldn’t give in to the temptation of being your children’s friend as opposed to being an authority figure as a parent.  Francis admits to having prayed that his children go through trials (James 1:2-3):  Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  At the end of the section on parenting is included several questions for parents and prospective parents.

In discussing living according to God’s mission of making disciples, Francis points us to the free resources available at https://www.multiplymovement.com/.  Francis challenges us to finish strong like Joshua and Caleb. He longs to cross the finish line.

This would be an excellent book for couples to read together or in a group. Each chapter ends with “Read”, “Meditate” and “Act” sections. Helpful videos are included at www.youandmeforever.org.

 
Dad is FatDad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan. Crown Archetype. 288 pages. 2013. Audiobook read by Jim Gaffigan
****

We first saw Jim Gaffigan on a late night talk show earlier this year. That led us to pick up his new album Obsessed, which we enjoyed on a trip down to St. Louis a few months ago. Dad is Fat is his first book. I listened to the audiobook, which was humorously read by Gaffigan.

Gaffigan is known as the “clean comedian”, which means he can be funny without cursing. The book contains minimal adult language and nothing you won’t hear on network TV these days. It is a book about being a parent to five small children (ages 8 to newborn as of the writing of the book). And it is funny, even for a guy like me who doesn’t have any children.
Gaffigan, his wife Jeannie and their five children live in a two-bedroom five flight walkup in New York City’s Bowery area. That’s right, a two bedroom apartment five flights up – with no elevator – and five small children. Oh yeah, they don’t have a car either.

The book is a collection of several short essays or chapters on various aspects of parenthood. It was co-written with his wife Jeannie, who comes across as a saint in the book.

I enjoyed the entire book. Some of my favorite essays were on:

Child birth at home
Changing diapers
Dogs vs. Kids
Circumcision
New arrivals and the impact on current children
Motherhood
Toddlerhood
Comparison of nursery schools and bars
Children’s books
Taking the kids to the park
Being pale and sun screen
School and peanut allergies, parent-teacher conferences.
Taking kids to church
Babysitters
Bedtime
Naps
Candy
Holidays
Reactions of others to having 5 children, such as “Are you done yet?”
Disney vacations
Family ski trip
Taking the family on a tour bus

Of course throughout the book Gaffigan has several references to food and he does a hilarious Impersonation of his father. He also includes several humorous references from Scripture. I think this book would be enjoyed by those with children, those thinking of having been children, those who were at one time a child or just those who enjoy a good clean laugh.

Recovering Redemption by Matt ChandlerRecovering Redemption: A Gospel-Saturated Perspective on How to Change by Matt Chandler and Michael Snetzer. B&H Books. 224. 2014. Audiobook read by Paul Michael
*** ½

There was much that resonated with me in this new book by Matt Chandler – Lead Pastor of Teaching at The Village Church in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex and

President of Acts 29, a church planting organization – and Michael Snetzer, Recovery Groups Pastor at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas.

The book seeks to guide the reader to a biblical and gospel centered understanding of how to change and why change is needed. We are broken and need to hear the gospel again.

The book is broken down into two parts. The first half of the book addresses the theological foundations for change, as the authors discuss God’s Story of creation, fall, and redemption. They also discuss our moral and spiritual inabilities, the need to humble ourselves before God, as well as the doctrines of justification and sanctification.

The authors discuss four areas we look to, to help us in place of the gospel:

  • Ourselves
  • Others
  • The World
  • Religion

The authors state that we look for answers in all of the usual places as we try to change ourselves. Real change cannot be found in these areas, but we try anyway.

A key point was that the authors stating that we don’t have a lust problem, an addiction problem, etc. Instead, we have a “heart problem”.

I liked how the authors discussed the olive tree as a living picture of the gospel. They indicate that it is redemption in action, stating that regeneration doesn’t come from the outside, but from the inside. And it doesn’t come from us, but from God.

The second half of the book looks at our role in recovery and change. The authors cover subjects such as guilt and shame, fear and anxiety, endurance, reconciliation, restoration, confronting and forgiving, and the pursuit of joy. I found their description of grief as a response to sin to be an accurate one.

In illustrating fear and anxiety, Matt told his story of brain cancer. As I listened to this book I was feeling my own anxiety over a likely job and supervisor change.

The book contains many personal stories and biblical advice. The personal stories include topics on drugs, pornography, and divorce, which will make the book meaningful for readers who have moved away from redemption for a variety of reasons. The authors also effectively use Scripture throughout the book.

The book is addressed to Christians who need to hear the gospel again. It is written in a way that is easy to understand and apply.

Here is an interview with Matt about the new book: http://thegospelcoalition.org//article/recovering-redemption-interview

Here is a digital guide to Recovering Redemption from the Village Church: http://www.thevillagechurch.net/mediafiles/uploaded/r/0e2670293_1385148355_recovering-redemption-digital-guide-week-12.pdf

A twelve-session Bible Study is also available for purchase: http://www.lifeway.com/n/Product-Family/Recovering-Redemption

 

Cal ThomasWhat Works: Common Sense for a Stronger America by Cal Thomas. Zondervan. 224 pages. 2014. Audiobook read by Cal Thomas.
*** ½

In this book, conservative newspaper columnist Cal Thomas writes about common sense solutions and learning from what has worked in the past. He encourages his readers to look to the programs, policies, and ideas that have worked in the past as we confront the problems of today. Bottom-line, he asks, “Did it work when it was tried”?

He begins the books with inspiring stories of a few who have overcome hardships, including Ben Carson and Joni Eareckson Tada. He then discusses worldviews, indicating that there are really two primary ones – a God-centered one and a man-centered one. He gives five ways of looking at reality, which are:

  • Naturalism
  • Pantheism
  • Theism
  • Animism
  • Postmodernism

Thomas’ faith comes through the book, and he has strong opinions about traditional values. Thomas encourages parents to stop sending their children to government schools that do not support their values and some examples of the negative impact of higher learning in America. He encourages the support of local pregnancy centers, and mentions that he often speaks at fundraising events for Christian schools and pregnancy centers. A few years back, we saw him speak at a fundraiser in Peoria.

He discusses Christians and government and the gospel and politics, referring back to Blinded by the Might, a book he wrote with Dr. James Dobson.

He discusses the 50th anniversary of Playboy magazine and what impact the sexual revolution has had on America. He states that something that was meant to free has instead enslaved many. As an example, one in five between the ages of 15 and 55 has had one or more sexually transmitted diseases.

He discusses health care in America and what we are facing under Obamacare, which was sold to America as reducing insurance costs, but will have the opposite effect.

He writes that the states should serve as a model for the federal government and then shares several positive examples, from states such as Indiana, Louisiana and New Jersey, Georgia, Ohio, New Mexico, Virginia and Wisconsin.

He looks at the family and marriage, including the long-term impacts on the children of parents who divorce. He discusses the significant increase in the number of people who cohabitate, the drop in the number of two parent households and the divorce rate among evangelical Christians.

He discusses the issue of poverty and alternatives to incarceration and some humorous “fan mail”, including one from Peoria after he spoke at a fundraising event. He also stresses what he believes is the very significant threat of radical Islam.

He states that the key to solving any problem is to start small, and shares several lessons from the Founding Fathers and some forecasts for America.

This is a very helpful book from Thomas, who also reads the audiobook version with passion. Although he is coming from a conservative viewpoint, I think all readers will benefit from reading the book.

See Eric Metaxas’ interview Thomas and Bob Beckel here: http://www.socratesinthecity.com/video/cal-thomas-and-bob-beckel-what-works

We saw Thomas speak at the 2012 Ligonier Ministries National Conference. You can watch his message from the conference entitled “Family Tradition” here: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/conferences/no-compromise-2013-national-conference/family-tradition/

You can visit Thomas’ website at www.calthomas.com

 

Finishing Our Course with JoyFinishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging by J.I. Packer. Crossway. 112 pages. 2014.
****

I was convinced to read this book after reading John Piper’s column on it last week – http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/j-i-packer-on-living-to-the-end-flat-out. This short book (I read it in about two hours) contains much wisdom from the 88 year-old Packer. Piper writes that “You could call it “Don’t Waste Your Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties.” It’s worth reading at any age.”

I highlighted a number of passages from the book and would like to share some of them with you below:

  • How should we view the onset of old age? The common assumption is that it is mainly a process of loss, whereby strength is drained from both mind and body and the capacity to look forward and move forward in life’s various departments is reduced to nothing.
  • The Bible’s view is that aging, under God and by grace, will bring wisdom, that is, an enlarged capacity for discerning, choosing, and encouraging.
  • And my contention is going to be that, so far as our bodily health allows, we should aim to be found running the last lap of the race of our Christian life, as we would say, flat out. The final sprint, so I urge, should be a sprint indeed.
  • “Live each day as if thy last” is a wise word from a hymn written in 1674 by Thomas Ken. The older we get, the more needful its wisdom becomes, and if we have not already taken it to heart, we should do so now. When we unpack Ken’s admonition, three thoughts emerge. First, live for God one day at a time. Second, live in the present moment. Get into the way of practicing God’s presence—more specifically, Christ’s presence, according to his promise to be with us always (Matt. 28:20)—and cultivate the divine companionship. Third, live ready to go when Christ comes for you.
  • First and foremost, it involves direct, sober dealing with the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who is not only the one who will come as our courier to take us through our transition from this world to the next, but also the one who at some point in that world will be our Judge.
  • But now we must face the fact that all forms of this ideal of ripeness and increased focus in life in our old age stand in direct contrast to the advice for old age that our secular Western world currently gives. Retirees are admonished, both explicitly and implicitly, in terms that boil down to this: Relax. Slow down. Take it easy. Amuse yourself. Do only what you enjoy. I see this agenda, well meant as it is, as wrongheaded in the extreme.
  • The fact that one is no longer under any pressure to use one’s mind in learning things, solving problems, or strategizing for benefits either to oneself or to anybody else, will allow intelligence to lie permanently fallow, and this, so they tell us, may very well hasten the onset of dementia.
  • The agenda as a whole turns out to be a recipe for isolating oneself and trivializing one’s life, with apathetic boredom becoming one’s default mood day after day.
  • It will help us forward if the basic questions about bodies and souls in God’s revealed purpose for us are now laid out and responded to in order. Here they are. What Are Human Beings, and Why Did God Invent Us?
  • Mankind (originally, a single pair to whom God gave a procreative agenda—Gen. 1:28) was made to manage the ordered environment that God had created for his own pleasure. And with that we were to find pleasure of our own in giving God the glory of our human praise and thanks and service.
  • The human soul, as was indicated above, is the conscious personal self, the “I” that knows itself as “me,” the built-in principle of awareness, responsiveness, interaction, and relationships.
  • It seems clear that God gave us bodies to live in and through for two reasons: first, to fit us for managing the material world of which we are made his trustees and stewards; and, second, to enrich our lives here and now. But bodies wear out, and that is what we have to come to terms with as we age.
  • The slowing down is permanent, and with it comes one of the two temptations that are peculiar to old age—namely, to go with the flow of bodily decline and waning physical desires, and to allow our discipleship to Christ and our zeal for seeking, displaying, and advancing the kingdom of God also to slow down, or maybe I should say cool down, in a way that corresponds.
  • Meantime, however, think back with me for a moment to the oldsters’ temptation that I referred to at the start of this chapter, namely, not facing up to the fact that our physical decline is actually happening. Why this obstinate unrealism? The answer is not far to seek. Behind this attitude stands pride.
  • The readers whom I am addressing, as I indicated at the outset, are Christian seniors in or near my own age group. They became Christians in youth or early middle age and have been believers for several decades. They appreciate that learning to live with one’s old age is a spiritual discipline in itself, and they are reading this book in hope that it might help them there.
  • In the Bible, temptations are tests in which we are tried out, as the world would express it, to see what we are made of: what resources of wisdom, thoughtfulness, watchfulness, discernment, humility, consistency, trust, faithfulness, hope, and inward stability and strength are there in us to be drawn on when we are put under pressure.
  • And this leads on to the specific temptation by which Christ’s elderly disciples are nowadays assailed. That temptation is one form of an allurement we have all been exposed to since our Christian lives began, namely, to conform without thinking to what is already taking place.
  • We go with the flow, following the path that the secular community (and often too the institutional church to which we belong) is on already; and we identify with the standards and assumptions that we find dominating the culture around us.
  • In the present case, society conceives retirement as a watershed event of great significance, because retirement takes one out of what we call the world of work. Whereas, hitherto, we have labored hard in our trade or profession and been accountable in terms of a system we had no part in creating, now we become our own masters and can set our own agenda. Retirement is seen as an invitation to relax, slackening the pace and thrust of our lives, and as such is envisaged as a wholly good thing. Guaranteed lifelong solvency by our pension or unearned income, we off-load our responsibilities and leave to others the organizing, facilitating, monitoring, and adapting of all the things that it used to be our job to manage.
  • Eldercare in the churches, while rightly taking account of increasing bodily infirmities among the aging, should at the same time seek to cherish and continue to harness the ministering capacities that these Christians displayed at earlier stages of their lives. And elderly Christians themselves should press on in the worship and service of God, and in pastoral care for others, up to the limit of what they still can handle in terms of learning and leading, as they used to do earlier in their lives.
  • Lifelong learning, both of the truths by which Christians are to live and of the way to live by them—also of how these things are taught in Scripture and how they are misstated, misunderstood, and misapplied in the modern world—is every Christian’s calling.
  • Being alert to all aspects of the difference between true and false teaching, and of behavior that expresses the truth as distinct from obscuring it, is vital to the church’s health. It must be said with greatest clarity that alongside devotional Bible study that feeds faith and prompts prayer, something with which most Western Christians are already familiar and in which they are currently engaged, there is equal need of catechetical Bible study, without which well-intentioned minds and hearts will repeatedly go off track, and with which most Western Christians are at present unacquainted.
  • It must also be said with equal emphasis that everyone is leader to someone, whether pastoral persons to those they guide and teach, or parents to children, or spouses to each other in complementary ways, or friends to friends. I speak of leadership in a broad sense to include the full reality, informal as well as formal and unconscious as well as intentional, of influence: a relational force shaping some aspect of someone else’s life.
  • But to think of Christian retirees as exempt from the twin tasks of learning and leading, just because they do not inhabit the world of wage and salary earning any longer, and for aging Christians to think of themselves in this way, as if they have no more to do now than have fun, is worldliness in a strikingly intense and, be it said, strikingly foolish form.
  • But, as we have just seen, the image of running was central to Paul’s understanding of his own life, and I urge now that it ought to be the central focus in the minds and hearts of all aging Christians, who know and feel that their bodies are slowing down. The challenge that faces us is not to let that fact slow us down spiritually, but to cultivate the maximum zeal for the closing phase of our earthly lives.
  • So again we ask, what is zeal? Zeal means priority, passion, and effort in pursuing God’s cause. Maintaining zeal Godward as our bodies wear out is the special discipline to which we aging Christians are called.
  • First revealed truth: We know that a new body awaits each servant of Christ (2 Cor. 5:1).
  • Second revealed truth: We know that the experience of moving into this upgraded accommodation, our resurrection body, linked as it will be in some way with the body we have now—though as different from it as a seed is from the plant that grows out of it (see 1 Cor. 15:35–49)—will come to us as an enormous enrichment of the embodied life as we have known it up till now.
  • Third revealed truth: In heaven, clothed in our new bodies, we shall see and be at home with Jesus our Lord in a way that while we inhabit our present bodies is not possible.
  • Fourth revealed truth: We, with all other Christians and all other people too, will one day face the judgment seat of Christ.
  • What will be determined then (on resurrection day, presumably) is not where we shall spend eternity—that was decided when we first committed ourselves to Christ and received our forgiveness and reconciliation with God through the cross—but in what condition we shall spend that eternity of life with Christ.
  • Do they bring anything unique to the table of Christian fellowship, of kingdom vision, and of disciple-making strategy? Four things touched on earlier call for mention here.
  • Churches, society, and seniors themselves are still adjusting to the likelihood that most Christians who hit seventy still have before them at least a decade in which some form of active service for Christ remains practicable.
  • Spiritual maturity is a deep, well-tested relationship to our triune God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and a quality of relationship with both believers and unbelievers that embraces concern, sympathy, warmth, care, wisdom, insight, discernment, and understanding. It is a quality that is identifiable only in relationships; one that all pastoral ministry requires; and one that should, and in fact constantly does, mark out Christian seniors, equipping them for ongoing usefulness in care-centered, outreach-oriented congregations.
  • Humility is the product of ongoing repentance as one decides against, turns from, and by watching and praying seeks to steer clear of pride in all its forms. And as the battle against pride in the heart is lifelong, so humility should become an ever more deeply seated attitude of living at the disposal of God and others—an attitude that veteran Christians should increasingly display. Real spiritual growth is always growth downward, so to speak, into profounder humility, which in healthy souls will become more and more apparent as they age.
  • By intensity I mean not nervous tension, but strength of focus and concentration on pleasing God and furthering his cause and his glory—in a word, zeal, as we analyzed it a moment ago.
  • As seniors’ powers of body, memory, and creativity grow less, so their conscious focus on their hope of glory should grow sharper and their meditations on it grow more joyful and sustained. As this happens, passion to continue being of use to God and his people, in holiness, love, and what Scriptures conceives as neighborliness, should and will intensify, to the very end.
  • Ask God, and consult your congregation’s pastoral leaders, as to how you might do the best you can with what you have got and model in your own person the mobilizing of over-sixty-fives to continue giving all they can for as long as they can to contribute to the mutual ministry that goes on within God’s flock.

Ben Carson One NationOne Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future by Ben Carson, MD with Candy Carson. Sentinel Penguin. 2014. Audiobook read by Prentice Onayemi
****
When Dr. Ben Carson was asked to speak at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast he was a little surprised. He had already spoken at the event once, and the only other person who had spoken there twice was Billy Graham. Carson includes the text of his speech in the book. Immediately after completing the speech he was told that he had offended President Obama with his comments and needed to apologize. Carson didn’t feel that he had said anything that would have offended the President and thus he saw no need to apologize.
Many people positively responded to the speech and Carson was asked to appear on several news programs. Some encouraged him to run for president. He would get my vote!
This book outlines Carson’s vision for America, which is one of common sense. He first writes about what is wrong with America (political correctness; special interest groups; our country’s debt; bullying; voters voting along straight party lines instead of informing themselves on the issues and candidates, etc.) and then offers solutions.
He discusses the importance of education, which he states will affect your entire life; things we agree on, and things we can compromise on. He calls for Americans to work together, regardless of their political party affiliation. He shares his ideas on how to reform health care in America and on taxation, using the tithe model from the Bible. He writes about the importance of humility, taking care of our family members when they can’t and the importance of positive role models.
In discussing morality, he asks how we determine what is right and wrong. For Christians, we get that from the Bible. He then looks at current issues such as abortion, homosexuality and evolution, and the position that Christians tend to take on those issues.
Throughout the book he quotes several passages from the book of Proverbs. The book includes helpful “Action Steps” at the end of each chapter, for the reader to build on what had been covered in that chapter.
Here are a few quotes from the book:
• “Disagreement is part of being a person who has choices. One of those choices is to respect others and engage in intelligent conversation about differences of opinion without becoming enemies, eventually allowing us to move forward to compromise.”
• “Compassion, however, should mean providing a mechanism to escape poverty rather than simply maintaining people in an impoverished state by supplying handouts. By doing this we give them an opportunity to elevate their personal situations, which eventually decreases our need to take care of them and empowers them to be able to exercise compassion toward others.”
• “While wisdom dictates the need for education, education does not necessarily make one wise.”
• “If Americans simply choose to vote for the person who has a D or an R by their name, we will get what we deserve, which is what we have now.”
• “Our founders did not believe that our society could thrive without this kind of moral social structure. In fact, it was our second president, John Adams, who said of our thoroughly researched and developed governing document, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
• “Many well-meaning Americans have bought into the PC speech code, thinking that by being extra careful not to offend anyone we will achieve unity. What they fail to realize is that this is a false unity that prevents us from talking about important issues and is a Far Left strategy to paralyze us while they change our nation. People have been led to become so sensitive that fault can be found in almost anything anyone says because somewhere, somehow, someone will be offended by it.”
• “We all have choices in the way we react to the words we hear. Our lives and the lives of all those around us will be significantly improved if we choose to react positively rather than negatively.”
• “There is no freedom without bravery.”
• “When the vision of the U.S. government included guarding the rights of people but staying out of their way, America was an economic engine more powerful than anything the world had ever witnessed.”
• “Sometimes one has to be humble enough to start at the bottom with a minimum-wage job even if you have a college degree. Once you get your foot in the door, you can prove your worth and rapidly move up the ladder. If you never get in the door, it is unlikely that you will rise to the top.”
• “Wisdom is essentially the same thing as common sense, the slight difference is that common sense provides the ability to react appropriately, while wisdom is frequently more proactive and additionally encourages the shaping of the environment.”
• “The human brain has billions of neurons and hundreds of billions of interconnections. It can process more than two million bits of information per second and can remember everything you have ever seen or heard.”
• “If we are to put an end to division, people from all political persuasions will have to stop fighting one another and seek true unity, not just a consensus that benefits one party.”
• “Saul Alinsky advised his followers to level sharp attacks against their opponents with the goal of goading them into rash counterattacks that would then discredit them. To avoid falling into this trap, those of us who are interested in civil discussion should prepare ourselves to refrain from reacting in fear or anger to those who disagree with us or even attack us.”
• “If most of the people in the country believe that America is generally fair and decent, it becomes more difficult for Saul Alinsky types to recruit change agents and for those on the Far Left to undermine our Constitution. Hence the constant bad-mouthing of our nation to impressionable young people, preparing them to be ripe for manipulation at the appropriate time.”

God and the Gay Christian - A Response to Matthew VinesGod and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines. Edited by R. Albert Mohler Jr. SBTS Press. 62 pages. 2014
****

Matthew Vines’s recent book, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, argues that homosexual orientation and committed same-sex relationships are consistent with a “high view” of the Bible and evangelical Christianity. Southern Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. and four other seminary faculty members refute this claim in this new e-book.

Dr. Mohler states that this is the first in a series of e-books that engage the current evangelical conversation with the full wealth of Christian conviction. This is an important issue for Christians today. We need to remember to treat with respect those whom we disagree, and show them the love that Christ has shown us.

I highlighted a number of passages from the five short chapters in this book, and would like to share some of them with you below:

GOD, THE GOSPEL AND THE GAY CHALLENGE: A RESPONSE TO MATTHEW VINES ~ R. ALBERT MOHLER JR.

  • The question of homosexuality now presents evangelicals in the United States with a decision that cannot be avoided. Within a very short time, we will know where everyone stands on this question.
  • The question is whether evangelicals will remain true to the teachings of Scripture and the unbroken teaching of the Christian church for over 2,000 years on the morality of same-sex acts and the institution of marriage.
  • We are living in the midst of a massive revolution in morality, and sexual morality is at the center of this revolution. The question of same-sex relationships and sexuality is at the very center of the debate over sexual morality, and our answer to this question will both determine or reveal what we understand about everything the Bible reveals and everything the church teaches — even the gospel itself.
  • There are a great host of people, considered to be within the larger evangelical movement, who are desperately seeking a way to make peace with the moral revolution and endorse the acceptance of openly gay individuals and couples within the life of the church.
  • In God and the Gay Christian, Vines argues that “Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships.” He announces that, once his argument is accepted: “The fiercest objections to LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] equality — those based on religious beliefs — can begin to fall away. The tremendous pain endured by LGBT youth in many Christian homes can become a relic of the past. Christianity’s reputation in much of the Western world can begin to rebound. Together we can reclaim our light,” he argues.
  • He identifies himself as both gay and Christian and claims to hold to a “high view” of the Bible.
  • The most important sections of Vines’s book deal with the Bible itself and with what he identifies as the six passages in the Bible that “have stood in the way of countless gay people who long for acceptance from their Christian parents, friends, and churches”. Those six passages (Genesis 19:5; Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; and 1 Timothy 1:10) are indeed key and crucial passages for understanding God’s expressed and revealed message on the question of same-sex acts, desires and relationships, but they are hardly the whole story.
  • In other words, he argues that same-sex sexuality can be part of the goodness of God’s original creation, and that when God declared that it is not good for man to be alone, the answer to man’s isolation could be a sexual relationship with someone of either sex. But this massive misrepresentation of Genesis 1 and 2 — a misinterpretation with virtually unlimited theological consequences — actually becomes Vines’s way of relativizing the meaning of the six passages he primarily considers.
  • His main argument is that the Bible simply has no category of sexual orientation. Thus, when the Bible condemns same-sex acts, it is actually condemning “sexual excess,” hierarchy, oppression or abuse — not the possibility of permanent, monogamous, same-sex unions.
  • In addressing the passages in Genesis and Leviticus, Vines argues that the sin of Sodom was primarily inhospitality, not same-sex love or sexuality.
  • But to get anywhere near to Vines’s argument, one has to sever Romans 1 from any natural reading of the text, from the flow of the Bible’s message from Genesis 1 forward, from the basic structure of sexual complementarity and from the church’s faithful reading of the Bible for two millennia. Furthermore, his argument provides direct evidence of what Paul warns of in this very chapter, “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18).
  • Again and again, Vines comes back to sexual orientation as the key issue.
  • Amazingly, he then concedes that the Bible’s “six references to same-sex behavior are negative,” but insists, again, that “the concept of same-sex behavior in the Bible is sexual excess, not sexual orientation”
  • Here we face the most tragic aspect of Matthew Vines’s argument. If the modern concept of sexual orientation is to be taken as a brute fact, then the Bible simply cannot be trusted to understand what it means to be human, to reveal what God intends for us sexually, or to define sin in any coherent manner.
  • When he begins his book, Vines argues that experience should not drive our interpretation of the Bible. But it is his experience of what he calls a gay sexual orientation that drives every word of this book.
  • It is this experiential issue that drives him to relativize text after text and to argue that the Bible really doesn’t speak directly to his sexual identity at all, since the inspired human authors of Scripture were ignorant of the modern gay experience.
  • This leads to a haunting question. What else does the Bible not know about what it means to be human? If the Bible cannot be trusted to reveal the truth about us in every respect, how can we trust it to reveal our salvation?
  • This points to the greater issue at stake here — the gospel. Vines’s argument does not merely relativize the Bible’s authority, it leaves us without any authoritative revelation of what sin is. And without an authoritative (and clearly understandable) revelation of human sin, we cannot know why we need a savior, or why Jesus Christ died. Furthermore, to tell someone that what the Bible reveals as sin is not sin, we tell them that they do not need Christ for that. Is that not exactly what Paul was determined not to do when he wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11? Could the stakes be any higher than that? This controversy is not merely about sex, it is about salvation.
  • In terms of how his argument is likely to be received within the evangelical world, Vines clearly has a strategy, and that strategy is to persuade those who have rejected gender complementarity to take the next logical step and deny sexual complementarity as well.
  • But the believing church is left with no option but to deny the revisionist and relativizing proposals Vines brings to the evangelical argument. The consequences of accepting his argument would include misleading people about their sin and about their need for Christ, about what obedience to Christ requires and what faithfulness to Christ demands.
  • Biblical Christianity can neither endorse same-sex marriage nor accept the claim that a believer can be obedient to Christ and remain or persist in same-sex behaviors.
  • God and the Gay Christian demands an answer, but Christ demands our obedience. We can only pray — with fervent urgency — that this moment of decision for evangelical Christianity will be answered with a firm assertion of biblical authority, respect for marriage as the union of a man and a woman, passion for the gospel of Christ and prayer for the faithfulness and health of Christ’s church.

HOW TO CONDONE WHAT THE BIBLE CONDEMNS: MATTHEW VINES TAKES ON THE OLD TESTAMENT ~ JAMES M. HAMILTON JR.

  • To argue that people can do exactly what the Bible prohibits, Vines proceeds as others have before him. He Isolates a small number of texts that speak directly to the issue; Extracts those texts from the wider thought-world in which they fit, replacing it with contemporary standards and expectations; Uses “evidence” that supports the case, whether that entails the reinterpretation of a few words or appeals to purported historical backgrounds that informed the author of the text but are irrelevant today; and Makes pervasive use of logical fallacies: forces false choices, assumes conclusions, makes faulty appeals to authority, makes false analogies, etc.
  • Vines engages in a kind of deconstruction of the Bible’s teaching by isolating the six texts that speak explicitly on this issue. Having divided, he seeks to conquer by reinterpreting these passages.
  • Look to the Bible. Allow the Bible to answer the question of whether it condones or condemns same-sex relations. Read the Bible for yourself. Start in Genesis 1 and read straight through to see the context of the relevant statements. See which explanation of the Bible stands up to examination.
  • My chapter focuses on how Vines interprets the Old Testament.
  • When Vines argues against the idea that Genesis 1–2 teaches that procreation is a fixed standard for marriage, and when he argues that sexual complementarity is not required for the one flesh union, he sets himself against the understanding of Genesis 1–2 articulated by Jesus of Nazareth.
  • He argues that later biblical authors only speak of inhospitality and violence, arrogance and oppression when referencing Sodom. Vines also writes that the gang-rape intended by the Sodomites cannot be compared with the kind of committed, consensual same-sex marriage relationship he advocates. Rape is obviously a violation of what God intended, but that does not mean that the same-sex aspect of Sodom’s sin was not also a violation of God’s intention.
  • In addition to misrepresenting Moses, Vines does not account for the punishment that fits the crime in Leviticus 20:13. If Vines is correct, the problem with same-sex relations is that the man who plays the active role degrades the man who plays the passive role by lowering him to the status of a woman. This understanding would make the active partner the more guilty, and this degradation in patriarchal society is crucial to the distinction Vines draws between what Leviticus condemns and today’s same-sex relations between equals.
  • Leviticus 20:13, however, neither says that only the active partner has sinned, nor does it say that only the active partner is to be punished.
  • But Leviticus 20:13 punishes both active and passive partners as equals: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”
  • The punishment in Leviticus 20:13 sheds light on Leviticus 18:22, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”
  • What is it that makes these practices abominations? The Bible’s answer is that God’s holy character determines what is holy and common, clean and unclean (e.g., Lev 10:10–11, cf. 10:1–11; 18:2; 20:8).
  • In view of his logical fallacies, his failure to account for the big story that frames Genesis 19, Leviticus 18 and Leviticus 20, and his suggestion that the Old Testament presents women as inferior to men in spite of their Genesis 1:27 equality, I would say that Vines is not even in the ring. His attack on the Bible’s teaching is ultimately an attack on the one who inspired the Bible, God.

SUPPRESSING THE TRUTH IN UNRIGHTEOUSNESS: MATTHEW VINES TAKES ON THE NEW TESTAMENT ~ DENNY BURK

  • Matthew Vines’s treatment of New Testament texts about homosexuality focuses on three passages: Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. In doing so, however, he fails to account for the larger context of Scripture and its teaching on marriage and sexuality. Instead, he writes at length trying to disprove the notion that any of these verses really condemns what we now call homosexuality. Against a 2,000-year-old consensus within the Christian church, Vines contends that these verses do not mean what they appear to mean — that homosexuality is fallen and sinful and completely incompatible with following Christ. Vines argues that if these verses were properly understood, everyone would see that there’s nothing inherently sinful about homosexual orientation or behavior. Thus, there is no biblical reason to prevent “gay Christians” from entering into the covenant of marriage with a same-sex partner. Gay couples can fulfill the marital norms of Ephesians 5 just like their heterosexual counterparts.
  • Vines’s argument is hobbled at the outset by a subversive hermeneutic. It is no exaggeration to say that Vines’s reading of Scripture is an agenda in search of an interpretation. Hermeneutically speaking, the tail is wagging the dog in Vines’s work. He simply assumes that the texts cannot mean anything negative about homosexuality.
  • He alleges a variety of negative consequences that flow from calling homosexuality a sin. We must, therefore modify and reinterpret the Bible so that people no longer feel badly about its sexual ethic.
  • That is why Vines has no problem sweeping away the 2,000-year-old consensus of the Christian church. That consensus understanding of Scripture causes some people to feel badly, so it must be done away with.
  • Suppressing the Truth in Romans 1:26-27 – Vines rightly identifies Romans 1:26-27 as the “most significant biblical passage in this debate”. Nevertheless, he begins his exposition by telling readers that “these words of Paul have long haunted gay people”. Again, he misleads readers by arguing that these verses cannot mean what they appear to mean because the words “haunt” gay people. On this basis, he offers a revisionist interpretation, arguing that readers no longer have to choose between affirming same-sex relationships and affirming the authority of the Bible. His reading pretends that Christians can affirm both.
  • Vines tries to show from a variety of historical sources that the issue Paul opposed was excessive lust, not homosexuality per se. Vines’s argument depends on the specious claim that Paul did not know about same-sex orientation and therefore could only have been referring to certain kinds of excessively lustful homosexual acts.
  • Nevertheless, Vines’s modification still relies on the faulty assumption that Paul was unaware of sexual orientation.
  • To be sure, Paul did not use the term “orientation,” but that does not mean that he was unaware of the concept.
  • Thus sexual orientation is one’s persistent pattern of sexual desire/attraction toward either or both sexes. If that is the definition, then the term “orientation” does not somehow take us to a category that Paul fails to address. Paul says that our sexual desires/attractions have a moral component and that we are held accountable for them.
  • To be sure, Paul says that homosexual behavior is sinful. But he also says that the desires/attractions themselves are equally morally blameworthy and stand as evidence of God’s wrath against sin: “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions … and [they] burned in their desire toward one another” (Rom 1:26-27). Sexual desire that fixates on the same sex is sinful, and that is why God’s judgment rightly falls on both desires and actions. Again, the issue Paul addresses is not merely sexual behavior but also same-sex attraction.
  • Paul says that homosexuality is sinful because it goes “against nature” (Rom 1:26-27, author’s translation). Vines gets around this obstacle by redefining what “nature” means.
  • Thus for Paul, “against nature” means that homosexuality goes against God’s original design. The bottom line is this: Vines interprets the text to mean that homosexuality is only wrong when it is based on excessive lust and when it defies patriarchy. Since committed monogamous gay relationships violate neither of these norms, 11 he argues, there is nothing in this text to prevent same-sex couples from entering into such a relationship.
  • Contrary to Vines, Paul has adopted the sexual ethic of the Old Testament, which condemns homosexuality in all its dimensions.
  • Redefining Terms in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 – According to Vines, therefore, every translation that suggests Paul opposes homosexuality generally is in error. Paul only means to oppose exploitative same-sex relationships.
  • In other words, Paul’s sexual ethic is once again based entirely on his Jewish tradition whose Scriptures were unambiguously opposed to all forms of homosexual behavior, not just exploitative ones.
  • Paul uses the terms malakos and arsenokoitēs to refer to the active and passive partners in a homosexual encounter. Like Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Paul identifies both halves of a homosexual coupling as sinful. Paul prohibits all forms of sexual relationships between same-sex couples.
  • Distorting the Gospel in Ephesians 5:21-33 – There is perhaps no more important text on the meaning and purpose of marriage than Ephesians 5:21-33. And Vines understands that its traditional interpretation stands in the way of his revision of marriage.
  • So Vines invokes the text with the stated intent of subverting its traditional rendering.
  • Vines recognizes that the text presents marriage as a “mystery” that symbolizes Christ’s union with his bride, the church. Nevertheless, he argues that same-sex unions can symbolize Christ’s marriage as well as heterosexual ones. To do so, he reduces the norm of marriage to permanence. As long as same-sex couples stay together in a relationship of mutual self-giving, they honor Christ as well as any heterosexual couple.
  • The primary problem with this view is that it understates Paul’s specific appeal to Genesis 2:24 to explain the meaning of marriage: “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh” (Eph 5:31). Yes, the norm of marriage involves a permanent commitment. But it also involves more than that. Genesis 1-2 establishes at least seven norms for marriage: marriage is covenantal, sexual, procreative, heterosexual, monogamous, non-incestuous and symbolic of the gospel. To miss any one of these elements is to distort the meaning of marriage, and Vines misses six of them.
  • Vines has rejected the straightforward commands of Scripture. He just does not want to admit that this is indeed what he has done. He wants to give an appearance that he is still in the evangelical fold. But make no mistake. He is not. As he gives lip-service to biblical authority and to the need for salvation, his sheep costume looks really convincing. But do not miss that there really is a wolf concealed within — one that would like to devour as many sheep as possible with a Bible-denying, judgment-inducing error. The stakes really are that high.

HAVE CHRISTIANS BEEN WRONG ALL ALONG? WHAT HAS THE CHURCH BELIEVED AND TAUGHT? ~ OWEN STRACHAN

  • He attempts, in fits and starts, to overturn the prevailing historical narrative of the church’s rejection of homosexuality. In what follows, I will address four major flaws in Vines’s historical engagement. As I address the historical deficiencies of Vines’s work, I will show that the Christian tradition speaks with one voice on the matter of homosexuality. First, Vines’s view that evangelicals sought the abolition of slavery primarily due to experience is incorrect.
  • In his first chapter, Vines makes the case for an evangelical reexamination of homosexuality on the grounds that Christians have historically reversed their positions due to experience.
  • For Vines, experience drives interpretation. He felt same-sex attraction, and concluded that the Bible must support his lifestyle.
  • God and the Gay Christian is a lengthy exercise in reading Vines’s experience, and affirmation of it, into Scripture. The abolitionists, by contrast, judged their experience by reference to Scripture. Unlike the pro-slavery faction, they did not go to the Bible to justify their behavior and their society’s practice, but to critique it.
  • Sadly, Vines is twisting Scripture to fit his desired sin patterns.
  • Vines develops an argument throughout God and the Gay Christian that boils down to this: ancient Christians, like other influential voices, spoke against certain homosexual acts but did not speak to the sinfulness of sexual orientation. Vines concludes that this means that past Christians would have had no quarrel with homosexual orientation. And thus, knowing this new category of human experience today, we are free to approve of a gay Christian lifestyle.
  • It is true that the exact term that the same-sex lobby uses to describe self-described gay and lesbian people, “orientation,” was not used until recently. But this is a red herring, and an anachronistic one at that.
  • The term “orientation” is recent, but Christians have called incidental or regular homosexual practice sinful for millennia.
  • Preaching on this same passage, Chrysostom concluded of those who practiced homosexuality that “not only was their doctrine satanic, but their life was too.”
  • This passage is of particular note, because Vines cites a portion of it, but he leaves out this section, claiming only that Chrysostom condemned “excessive” lust.
  • Both the “doctrine” and the “life” of those who abandoned “what is according to nature” — i.e. those who embraced homosexual behavior — should be considered “satanic.” There is no stronger term by which one may identify sin than that.
  • Believers still dishonor God after our conversion, but we no longer find our identity in our sin, as Vines wants to do. Indeed, one wonders whether the “coming out” experience of “gay Christians” is more of a conversion than their profession of faith.
  • God and the Gay Christian may have the moral legitimization of homosexuality in its sights, but there is a strong secondary target as well: biblical gender roles. Throughout the text, Vines mixes both subtle and explicit rebukes of complementarianism.
  • In general, God and the Gay Christian is rarely more gymnastic, more contorted, in its theologizing than in its presentation of biblical gender. As the executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (CBMW), I took special interest in Vines’s attempt to jettison both sexual “complementarity” and “anatomical differences”.
  • Vines attacks what Scripture plainly teaches and our bodies plainly show: men and women are different.
  • The point is simple, and marvelously so. Only someone not like Adam could bear children. “Anatomical complementarity” is as fixed a fact as can be. This is true unless one forcibly refigures one’s gender, a process Vines wholeheartedly endorses, and which may be the most audacious position he takes in a book chock-full of audacity. There are professing evangelicals currently queuing up to endorse same-sex marriage and curry favor from the cultural elite when the moment is right. Fewer Christians are presently in the “The Bible Allows Boys to Become Girls” line, but their numbers will increase in coming days. Currently, Maine and California allow boys identifying as trans-gender to enter girls’ restrooms. Vines approves wholeheartedly of this.
  • Vines claims that the rejection of same-sex relations on the part of ancient Christians owes to their cultural prejudice against women, not any fixed belief in “anatomical complementarity”. This is a take-your-breath-away kind of claim. Countless Christians have grounded their rejection of same-sex relations in natural complementarity, which surely includes anatomical design.
  • In both the early church and beyond, the Christian tradition has argued for the goodness of heterosexual marriage based on the “natural” design of the human body and, correspondingly, what Luther calls “implanted” desire for complementary sexual experience. Conversely, homosexual practice is considered “unnatural,” for it is opposed both to God-authored design and desire. This two-sided view is so popular as to be both dominant and essentially unquestioned in Christian history.
  • It means, contra what Vines argues, that whether such persons experience the “gift” of celibacy or a sense of calling to this state, they are of necessity and for all their life called to abstain from homosexual behavior.
  • In sum, Vines seems to believe that if he can dream up a term or a category related to homosexual activity that was not encountered by historic Christians, then said historic Christians would affirm such activity. This position is deeply problematic for obvious reasons.
  • God and the Gay Christian is at its core a shocking call to bodily gratification and sexual revolution that, in places, outpaces even the irreligious in its permissiveness.
  • In conclusion, I suggest three ways for contemporary Christians to approach the issue of the historicity of so-called gay Christianity. 1. Christians who feel as though they might be on the wrong side of history must know that quite the opposite is true.
  • The Bible does not affirm “gay Christianity,” and no major figure among evangelical leaders prior to the 20th century did, either. The category of “orthodox pastors and theologians who historically affirmed gay Christianity” is not merely a small set, but an empty one.

IS A ‘GAY CHRISTIAN’ CONSISTENT WITH THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST? ~ HEATH LAMBERT

  • Is a “gay Christian” consistent with the gospel of Christ? Matthew Vines’s answer to this question is the exact opposite of the one provided by historic Christianity. Vines’s book, God and the Gay Christian, is an unfortunate reversal of thousands of years of moral clarity about homosexuality.
  • The first element of Vines’s assumption is that homosexual orientation, as we know it today, is an entirely new issue from homosexual acts committed in the ancient world — the same-sex acts discussed in Scripture.
  • For Vines, the Bible condemns homosexual acts defined by unnatural and excessive lust, not people who have a fixed homosexual orientation. This new understanding of orientation, according to Vines, is simply not addressed in Scripture, and so the Bible’s condemnation of same-sex acts is not relevant for today.
  • The second element of Vines’s assumption about homosexual orientation is that, as an inherent part of a person, it is unchangeable.
  • For Vines, homosexual orientation is innate and immutable.
  • Vines’s book makes it seem that the only way to show care for people struggling with homosexuality is to accept their sinfulness. Christians throughout the ages, however, have believed that love requires a tender call to repentance. A life devoid of repentance is a life devoid of Christ.
  • What is at stake in this debate is nothing less than our love for troubled people and the very gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • I want to correct Vines’s false assumptions about homosexuality in three ways. First, I want to show that Vines’s statements in his book go far beyond the evidence that exists for homosexual orientation. Second, I want to object to the idea that a so-called orientation makes a behavior morally acceptable. Third, I want to challenge on empirical and biblical grounds the notion that it is impossible to change homosexual orientation. After all this, I want to show that the call to be a Christian who is an unrepentant homosexual is not only at odds with the gospel of Jesus, but is also unloving.
  • The facts presented by the APA about sexual orientation are much more modest than Vines’s assertions. When the APA describes orientation, it talks about patterns of desire.
  • Similarly, the Bible does not use the word “orientation.” It does, however, use a synonym: desire. Vines’s assertion that the Bible does not understand orientation is therefore untrue. His error is the common one of assuming that because the Bible uses different terminology than modern people it does not address the same concerns.
  • Vines fails to understand that in a fallen world the strength of our sinful desires is a demonstration of our guilt, rather than our innocence.
  • His book is based on the astounding moral claim that isolated desires for homosexual activity are condemned in Scripture, while a persistent pattern of desire (i.e., orientation) is acceptable. Vines does not see the truth that sinful patterns of desire are worse than the isolated acts.
  • It is an unbelievable act of moral confusion to claim that repeated patterns of sinfulness make an act righteous.
  • “Orientation,” far from making homosexual acts more acceptable, actually shows how deeply sin has infiltrated our lives.
  • In his entire book, Vines never demonstrates that homosexual desire is unchangeable.
  • One of the most precious and powerful truths in the Bible is that believers are not locked into the corruption created by their strong, sinful desires. They can escape. They can be free.
  • Vines tells a few tragic stories of failure. I know those stories are out there. But it’s dishonest to ignore the other stories. What about the hundreds and thousands of Christians who are changing, like Tony? What about the many who pursue holiness in spite of their sinful desires?
  • These Christians are, like all of us, trusting in Jesus on the road toward greater sexual purity.
  • Vines assumes the existence of gay Christians because he is more familiar with homosexuality than he is with God’s powerful transforming grace.
  • How I wish he had written a book about the power of God to change people by his grace. If he had written a book about the power of Jesus to change people, he would know that there really is no such thing as a gay Christian.
  • In Christ, believers have a new identity. That is why a “gay Christian” is not consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • All Christians are broken-hearted at the experience of pain by those who struggle with same-sex desires. Every believer in Jesus knows what it is to love things God hates.
  • Vines looks at that pain, however, and diagnoses the wrong problem. He sees the problem as the call to repentance, rather than the sinfulness of sin. He thinks that if he could just create a culture of acceptance then that will take away the pain.
  • In writing a book focused on homosexuality, Vines misses the gospel. Jesus Christ promises change and a new identity to anyone who would repent.
  • Repentance is not the dirty word that God and the Gay Christian presents it to be. Repentance is life, hope and peace. The call to repent is built on the precious promise that there is grace for you to be different regardless of your sinful desires.
  • Vines’s project is a tragic one because, if successful, it will keep the sheep from hearing the voice of the shepherd and from life and peace and change. That means all of us who know the truth must love our homosexual neighbors by letting them know that Jesus is still calling, softly and tenderly. He will draw near with powerful, transforming grace to anyone who repents.

 

Taking God at His WordTaking God at His Word: Why the Bible is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me by Kevin DeYoung. Crossway. 144 pages. 2014.
****
Over the past few years Kevin DeYoung, senior pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan has become one of my favorite authors. Recently, I have read and enjoyed his books The Hole in our Holiness and Crazy Busy. Some years back, I read his book with Ted Kluck Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be (who even hears about the Emergent or Emerging Church anymore?) I also subscribe to and read his fine blog DeYoung, Restless and Reformed daily. DeYoung writes that the purpose of this excellent new book is:
“….to get us to fully, sincerely, and consistently embrace this third response. I want all that is in Psalm 119 to be an expression of all that is in our heads and in our hearts. In effect, I’m starting this book with the conclusion. Psalm 119 is the goal. In Psalm 119 we see at least three essential, irreducible characteristics we should believe about God’s word. First, God’s word says what is true. Second, God’s word demands what is right. Third, God’s word provides what is good.
This love poem forces us to consider how we feel about the word of God. We see that the psalmist has three fundamental affections for God’s word. First, he delights in it. Second, he desires it. Third, he depends on it.”

I highlighted a number of passages in this short book, and would like to share some of them with you below. More than that, I highly recommend that you read this book.

• What we believe and feel about the word of God are absolutely crucial, if for no other reason than that they should mirror what we believe and feel about Jesus.

• Our desire, delight, and dependence on the words of Scripture do not grow inversely to our desire, delight, and dependence on Jesus Christ. The two must always rise together.

• The goal of this book is to get us believing what we should about the Bible, feeling what we should about the Bible, and to get us doing what we ought to do with the Bible.

• This is a book unpacking what the Bible says about the Bible.

• But my conviction, born out of experience and derived from the teaching of Scripture itself, is that the most effective means for bolstering our confidence in the Bible is to spend time in the Bible. The Holy Spirit is committed to working through the word. God promises to bless the reading and teaching of his word. The sheep will hear their Master’s voice speaking to them in the word (cf. John 10:27).

• This cannot be stated too strongly: From the very beginning, Christianity tied itself to history. The most important claims of Christianity are historical claims, and on the facts of history the Christian religion must stand or fall.

• Notice three truths these verses teach us about the nature of Scripture. First, Scripture is the word of God.

• All of this matters because it means the authority of God’s word resides in the written text—the words, the sentences, the paragraphs—of Scripture, not merely in our existential experience of the truth in our hearts.

• The goal of revelation is not information only, but affection, worship, and obedience.

• Second, the word of God is no less divine because it is given through human instrumentality. Third, the Bible is without error.

• Inerrancy means the word of God always stands over us and we never stand over the word of God.

• Traditionally, Protestant theologians have highlighted four essential characteristics of Scripture: sufficiency, clarity, authority, and necessity.

• Or to rearrange the order of the attributes, we could say: God’s word is final; God’s word is understandable; God’s word is necessary; and God’s word is enough.

• Of the four attributes of Scripture, this may be the one that evangelicals forget first.

• If authority is the liberal problem, clarity the postmodern problem, and necessity the problem for atheists and agnostics, then sufficiency is the attribute most quickly doubted by rank-and-file churchgoing Christians.

• So are we saying that God no longer speaks? Not at all. But we must think carefully about how he speaks in these last days. God now speaks through his Son.

• So, yes, God still speaks. He is not silent. He communicates with us personally and directly. But this ongoing speech is not ongoing revelation.

• Scripture is enough because the work of Christ is enough. They stand or fall together.

• And why does any of this matter? What difference does the sufficiency of Scripture make for your Christian life? Let me finish the chapter by suggesting four ways it ought to make a huge difference.

  • First, with the sufficiency of Scripture we keep tradition in its place.
  •  Second, because Scripture is sufficient, we will not add to or subtract from the word of God.
  •  Third, since the Bible is sufficient, we can expect the word of God to be relevant to all of lif.  To affirm the sufficiency of Scripture is not to suggest that the Bible tells us everything we want to know about everything, but it does tell us everything we need to know about what matters most.
  • Fourth, the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture invites us to open our Bibles to hear the voice of God.

• The clarity of Scripture—sometimes known by the older word “perspicuity”,

• The perspicuity of Scripture upholds the notion that ordinary people using ordinary means can accurately understand enough of what must be known, believed, and observed for them to be faithful Christians.

• There is a lot at stake with this doctrine.

  • First, the gift of human language is at stake.
  • Second, the gift of human freedom is at stake.  given (and imperfect) consciences.
  •  Third, what God is like is at stake.
  • Finally, whom God is for is at stake.

• The Jews in Berea, by contrast, were more noble than their counterparts in Thessalonica. They were eager to hear the word and persistent in studying the Scriptures (v. 11). Daily they examined the Scriptures to see if Paul’s word could be supported by God’s word. They were looking into things, testing what they heard, diligent to discern what was the truth.

• God reveals himself to us in two ways: through the universe we can see, and through the Scripture we can hear and read. General revelation is God’s self-disclosure through the created world. Special revelation is God’s self-disclosure through the spoken and written words of divinely inspired messengers. Both means of revelation are important, and both are taught in Scripture.

• The doctrine of the necessity of Scripture reminds us of our predicament: the One we need to know most cannot be discovered on our own. And it assures us of a solution: this same ineffable One has made himself known through his word.

• So this is the necessity of Scripture in a nutshell: We need the revelation of God to know God, and the only sure, saving, final, perfect revelation of God is found in Scripture.

• What makes the Bible utterly unlike any other book—religious or otherwise—is the unsurpassed grace we encounter in its pages. We need Scripture because without it we cannot know the love of God.

• God’s word is final. God’s word is understandable. God’s word is necessary. God’s word is enough.

• We should be prepared to accept that if Jesus is right in how he handles the Bible, then boatloads of higher biblical criticism must be wrong.

• Jesus may have seen himself as the focal point of Scripture, but never as a judge of it. The only Jesus who stands above Scripture is the Jesus of our own invention.

• The implication could not be any plainer: for Jesus, what Scripture says, God says. This is the essence of Jesus’s doctrine of Scripture and the foundation for any right understanding of the Bible.

• So the most appropriate exhortation at the close of this book may be the one in verse 14: Continue. Don’t forget what you know and have already learned. Don’t lose sight of who you are. Stay on track. Keep on going.

• So in one way or another, Paul’s exhortation to Timothy is God’s exhortation to us. Remember who led you to faith. Remember who told you the gospel. Remember who first taught you the Bible.

• Scripture doesn’t tell us everything we may want to know about everything. But it tells us everything we need to know about the most important things.

• The unity of Scripture also means we should be rid, once and for all, of this “red letter” nonsense, as if the words of Jesus are the really important verses in Scripture and carry more authority and are somehow more directly divine than other verses.

• If we read about homosexuality from the pen of Paul in Romans, it has no less weight or relevance than if we read it from the lips of Jesus in Matthew. All Scripture is breathed out by God, not just the parts spoken by Jesus.

• Scripture, because it is the breathed-out word of God, possesses the same authority as the God-man Jesus Christ. Submission to the Scriptures is submission to God.

• Rebellion against the Scriptures is rebellion against God.

• The Bible can no more fail, falter, or err, than God himself can fail, falter, or err.

• But for Paul, Scripture’s practicality is the conclusion of his whole argument. It’s the payoff and the point of all this grand theology.

• The Bible is only impractical for the immature, and only irrelevant for the fools who believe that most everything is new under the sun.

• In a world that prizes the new, the progressive, and the evolved, we need to be reminded that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). And since he remains the same, so does his truth.

• So let us not weaken in our commitment to our unbreakable Bible. Let us not wander from this divinely exhaled truth. Let us not waver in our delight and desire. God has spoken, and through that revelation he still speaks. Ultimately we can believe the Bible because we believe in the power and wisdom and goodness and truthfulness of the God whose authority and veracity cannot be separated from the Bible. We trust the Bible because it is God’s Bible. And God being God, we have every reason to take him at his word.

An Appendix “Thirty of the Best Books on the Good Book” is included. It is a list of the thirty books that DeYoung has found most helpful in developing and defending a biblical doctrine of Scripture.

Westminster Seminary held an event to mark the release of Kevin DeYoung’s Taking God at His Word. You can now watch all the video from that event here: http://www.wtsbooks.com/common/enews_archive/TGAHW-video.html?utm_source=challies&utm_medium=challis

5 loveThe Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman. Northfield Publishing. 209 pages. 2009 edition. Audiobook read by Gary Chapman.
*** ½

Originally published in 1995, this book has sold more than 8 million copies and remains on the best seller lists today. Chapman states that everyone has a primary emotional “love language”. He lists those languages as:

  • Words of Affirmation – This language uses words to affirm other people.
  • Quality Time – This language is all about giving the other person your undivided attention.
  • Receiving Gifts – For some people, what makes them feel most loved is to receive a gift.
  • Physical Touch – To this person, nothing speaks more deeply than appropriate touch.
  • Acts of Service – For these people, actions speak louder than words.

Chapman explains that it is important for couples to understand how each both give and receive love. He states that it is possible for couples to truly love each other, but to feel unloved because their spouse doesn’t understand how they want to receive love.

He discusses the concept of a “love tank”. Just as a gas tank in a car, we feel loved when our love tank is filled. When someone is given love in their primary love language their love tank will be filled and they will feel loved. One thing I didn’t like about the book was the idea of “getting credit”. On a few occasions he would talk about one of the partners “getting credit” for doing something.

Chapman states that you can discover your own love language by asking yourself three questions:

  • How do I express love to others?
  • What do I complain about the most?
  • What do I request most often?

He suggests that couples have a love tank check for three nights a week for three weeks, asking each other what their love tank is on from 1-10. If it is less than 10, you should ask what you can do to help fill it.

He concludes the book by addressing the issue if you can love the unlovable (someone you hate), and also looking at love languages for children.

Tammy and I plan to read and discuss the book this summer. There are a number of related resources on the 5 Languages website at www.5lovelanguages.com

Note: Although I thought was helpful, some have some significant concerns with it. Read this overview of the book from Tim Challies, which includes a critical review from David Powlison – http://www.challies.com/christian-living/speaking-loves-languages

 

derek thomasHow the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home by Derek W. H. Thomas. Reformation Trust. 157 pages. 2011.
****
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson writes the Foreword for this excellent book. Derek Thomas is senior minister at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C., professor of systematic and historical theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta, and editorial director of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. The contents of the book began as a series of sermons on the eighth chapter of Romans titled “The Best Chapter of the Bible that Thomas preached at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi during the summer of 2009. Thomas served at that church with J. Ligon Duncan.
Thomas writes: “No chapter of Scripture reaches the same sustained levels or covers the same ground as Romans 8. It is a description of the Christian life from death to life, from justification to glorification, from trial and suffering to the peace and tranquility of the new heaven and new earth. It contains exhortations to persevere as well as reassurances of God’s preservation of His people. And no chapter has been cited more than this one in expounding application of redemption in the life of an individual (the ordo salutis). In short, Romans 8 gives us a picture of salvation in its comleteness. For this reason I have titled this little book How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home.
That title had interested me and I had wanted to read this book for some time, having seen Thomas speak a few times at the Ligonier Ministries National Conference. I finally got to read it and I’m glad I did. Take the time to read this short book on the wonderful chapter of Romans 8. You won’t regret it.

mohlerThe Disappearance of God: Dangerous Beliefs in the New Spiritual Openness by Albert Mohler. Multnomah. 2009. 194 pages.

Dr. Mohler writes that we are living in an age that is marked by so much spiritual and theological confusion that the God of the Bible has largely disappeared from view. He writes that the issues addressed in the book are matters of continuing concern within the Christian church. A variety of issues are covered in the book. Among those issues are:

• The disappearance of sin from our moral vocabulary. It has been redefined, rejected, neglected and denied.
• How for so many persons, even some evangelicals, in this postmodern world the biblical doctrine of hell has become simply unthinkable.
• The Christian view of beauty, which includes a moral and truth context. We cannot talk about beauty simply as a matter of taste.
• The “Emerging Church”. Mohler quotes liberally from D.A. Carson’s book Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church in this section. In that book, Carson attempts to measure the Emerging Church Movement on its own terms – and then offers a critical analysis of the movement from a larger perspective.
• Carson looks at the writings of Brian McLaren and Steve Chalke as representative of the movement and its doctrinal dangers. Given the fact that both of them deny the substitutionary nature of the atonement, rejecting virtually any notion of penal substitution, Carson writes ”I have to say, as kindly, but as forcefully as I can, that to my mind, if words mean anything, both McLaren and Chalke have largely abandoned the gospel”.
• McLaren’s book A Generous Orthodoxy, which Mohler indicates bears virtually no resemblance to orthodoxy as it has been known and affirmed by the church throughout the centuries.
• The “Openness of God” movement that insists that true human freedom requires that God cannot know human decisions in advance.
• The decline of church discipline, which Mohler writes is perhaps the most visible failure of the contemporary church.
• The importance of expository preaching.

Mohler covers a number of related subjects in the 23 short articles included in this book that readers will find helpful.

 

macarthur

Twelve Unlikely Heroes: How God Commissioned Unexpected People in the Bible and What He Wants to Do with You by John MacArthur. Thomas Nelson. 240 pages. 2012.

This is the third in John MacArthur’s “Twelve” series, following Twelve Ordinary Men and Twelve Extraordinary Women. In discussing heroes, he writes: “The greatest heroes are those who are the human means God uses to change people forever – for their good and His glory. And these true heroes who make an eternal impact are invariably the most unexpected and ordinary people – God makes unlikely heroes”.

In the beginning of the book MacArthur emphasizes a critical point, that the true hero of Scripture, in every Bible story, is God Himself. He writes: “My prayer for you, as you read this book, is that you will fix your eyes firmly on Him (Hebrews 12:2), recognizing, along with all the heroes of the faith, that those who put their trust in Him will never be disappointed (Romans 10:11)”.

MacArthur features short biographies of both familiar and lesser known names in Scripture – Enoch, Joseph, Miriam, Gideon and Sampson, Jonathan, Jonah, Esther, John the Baptist, James (brother of Jesus), and Mark and Onesimus. He writes that as different as these twelve were, they shared two common qualities:

1. They demonstrated faith in the Lord.
2. They responded in faithfulness to the Lord, putting feet to their faith and living obediently.

MacArthur concludes with, “…the truth is that left to themselves, in their sins and failings, none of these individuals would have been heroes in God’s kingdom. Yet, in His wisdom and power, God accomplished heroic feats through them. He is the true Hero in every story”.

MacArthur writes in an easy to understand style that both new and long-time believers can appreciate, covering the Scripture texts and adding cultural and historical insights. He helps readers to see what the life of each of these individuals reveals about God and how it should make a difference in the life of the reader today. A study guide is available for small group study use.

 

calvinFor Calvinism by Michael Horton. Zondervan. 208 pages. 2011. Audiobook read by Maurice England

Zondervan published this book along with Against Calvinism by Roger Olson. Horton originally didn’t want to write the book, after having made a case for these doctrines in a number of books already, and the publisher originally wanted the title to be Against Arminianism. Finally he agreed to do it if he could write a positive case, thus the title For Calvinism.

Horton explores the teachings of Calvinism, also known as Reformed Theology and the doctrines of grace. In this easy to understand introduction to Calvinism, he shows the reader how it is biblical and God-centered, leading us to live our lives for the glory of God. He explores the historical roots of Calvinism and covers each of the “Five Points of Calvinism” (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints). He addresses challenges against Calvinism, such as that it is opposed to missions.
Horton summarizes the impact of the doctrines of grace on missions, evangelism and church life. Although I didn’t read the companion book, I do think that this is a helpful introduction to Calvinism, written at a level that it is easy to understand.

Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary in California since 1998, Editor-in-Chief of Modern Reformation magazine, and host of the nationally syndicated radio broadcast, The White Horse Inn.

indescribableIndescribable: Encountering the Glory of God in the Beauty of the Universe by Louie Giglio and Matt Redman. 2011. Audiobook read by the authors.

Most people are familiar with Chris Tomlin’s song “Indescribable” (which was actually written by Laura Story). Some of you may have also seen the video of Pastor Louie Giglio describing how the heavens are telling the story of God. Now, comes a book where Giglio has teamed with worship leader Matt Redman to pair text with pictures. Indescribable is the end result and it is a moving and inspirational piece of writing, inviting readers to “discover the wonder of the cosmos and the intimacy of the Creator who loves you like no other.”

After brief forewords by former astronaut Joe Tanner and astronomer Jennifer Wiseman, Giglio and Redman take turns writing every other chapter of the book. Each chapter is a bite-sized morsel of thoughts and concepts of that particular author’s understanding of God discovered via a love for astronomy.
I listened to the audiobook version of the book. I did miss out on being able to see the pictures the authors referred to, but they are available at www.indescribablebook.com.

 

nouwenThe Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by Henri J.M. Nouwen. Image Books Doubleday. 1994. 151 pages.
****

I had been wanting to read this book for several years and finally did. Nouwen, who was a Catholic priest who passed away in 1996, had a seemingly insignificant encounter in the fall of 1983 with a poster of Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son that set in motion a long spiritual adventure that brought him to a new understanding of his vocation and offered him new strength to live it.

In 1986 he went to the Hermitage and spent more than four hours with the actual painting that had been on his mind and in his heart for nearly three years. Afterwards, Nouwen spoke often about the painting. He states that the more he did, the more he came to see it as, somehow, his personal painting, the painting that contained not only the heart of the story that God wanted to tell him, but also the heart of the story that he wanted to tell to God and God’s people.

Nouwen writes that during the year after he saw the Prodigal Son his spiritual journey was marked by three phases which helped him to find the structure of his own story. The first phase was his experience of being the younger son. The second phase was being confronted about being like the elder son. The third phase was being called to become the father.

Nouwen takes us through the well-known parable, looking at the younger son, the elder son and the father. He writes that Jesus himself became the prodigal son for our sake. He left the house of his heavenly Father, came to a foreign country, gave away all that he had, and returned through his cross to his Father’s home. The author writes that Jesus is also the elder son. He has come to show the Father’s love and to free Nouwen from the bondage of his resentments.

Nouwen writes that the story of the prodigal son is the story of a God who goes searching for him and who doesn’t rest until he has found him. It is a story that speaks about a love that existed before any rejection was possible and that will still be there after all rejections have taken place.

Nouwen states that becoming the Father is the surprising conclusion of his reflection on the painting. He writes that becoming like the heavenly Father is not just one important aspect of Jesus’ teaching; it is the very heart of his message.

Nouwen writes that the true center of Rembrandt’s painting is the hands of the father. When he first saw the Rembrandt poster in the fall of 1983, all of his attention was drawn to the hands of the father pressing his returning boy to his chest. He saw forgiveness, reconciliation and healing. He also saw safety, rest and being at home. Nouwen gradually made the L’Arche community his home. He writes that never in his life did he dream that men and women with a mental handicap would be the ones who would put their hands on him in a gesture of blessing and offer him a home. He writes that the greatest gift from L’Arche is the challenge of becoming the Father.

Nouwen concludes the book he writes that as he looks at his own aging hands, he knows that they have been given to him to stretch out toward all who suffer, to rest upon the shoulders of all who come, and to offer the blessing that emerges from the immensity of God’s love.

This is the third book I have read in the past few years about the parable of the parable of the prodigal son, and it is quite different from those by Tim Keller and John MacArthur. I would recommend all three of the books to you.

 

radical Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt. Multnomah. 240 pages. 2010
****

While at a wedding reception a few years back, we were talking at our table about what books we were all reading. One individual mentioned Radical by David Platt. I mentioned that I had seen it near the top of the Kindle “best seller” charts in the Religion and Spirituality section, but didn’t know anything about the book or author to know whether the book was any good or not. The individual telling me about the book assured me it was, and so I told him that I would download the book that night and finished it within a week.

The book reminded me a lot of John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life and even more so of Francis Chan’s Crazy Love in that its intent is to get us out of our comfortable Christian lifestyle. Platt is the pastor at the Church at Brook Hills, a 4,000 member Southern Baptist congregation in Birmingham, Alabama. In his first book, he challenges believers to follow the Scriptures, rather than the “American Dream”. Platt is passionate about helping the poor by being generous, and by spreading the gospel. He uses many stories – from his church, personal travels, etc. that will engage the reader – and ends the book with the “Radical Experiment”, that he challenges the reader to try over the next year. The five components of the Radical Experiment are:

1. To pray for the entire world
2. To read through the entire Word
3. To commit our lives to multiplying community
4. To sacrifice our money for a specific purpose
5. To give our time in another context

Platt introduced the “Radical Experiment” to his church on January 1, 2010. You can listen/watch via the Brook Hills podcast, available on iTunes. You can find additional resources related to this book at: http://www.radicalthebook.com/. This book is recommended only for those who might be willing to step out of their
comfort zone and live a radical life for Christ.

JOSEPH
Joseph and the Gospel of Many Colors by Voddie Baucham Jr. Crossway. 176 pages. 2013.
*** ½
The story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50 is one of my favorite in Scripture. This new book gives us a much more theologically rich take on the story by Voddie Baucham Jr., who is pastor of preaching at Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas. Baucham will be one of the speakers at the 2014 Ligonier National Conference in Orlando March 13-15. His topic will be “The World, the Flesh, & the Devil”.
There is much of value in this short book. Below are some of the passages I highlighted that I wanted to share with you. I recommend that you purchase the book and read it in its entirety.
• This was the first time I delved deeply into the life of Joseph. Of course, I was familiar with, and thought fondly of, Joseph’s character. However, I had never dealt seriously with other questions surrounding this biblical hero. What were the main events in his story? Who were the main characters? What was the main message? These questions and others led me to realize a truth that became the thesis upon which this book is based: the life of Joseph isn’t really about Joseph at all!
• As Pastor of Preaching, it was my responsibility to do an analysis and overview of the book, divide it into teaching segments, and assign passages among the elders.
• Second, since we were dividing the book into four segments, we planned to leave Genesis intermittently to preach from New Testament books. This led to an unexpected blessing. As we preached through large swaths of the New Testament (for example, the Sermon on the Mount, 1 John, and sections of Romans), it became more and more obvious that (1) Genesis was indeed foundational to biblical theology, systematic theology, and Christian cosmology/worldview; and (2) the New Testament writers had much to offer in terms of interpreting Genesis.
• Adam, Noah, and Abraham are mentioned throughout the New Testament, and those mentions are crucial to understanding both the significance of the book of Genesis and what is actually significant in the book of Genesis. I discovered the paltry number of references to Joseph in the New Testament and found myself asking, “How could such a beloved biblical character be such a minor player in the eyes of the New Testament writers?” Of course, the New Testament writers hadn’t missed something, but had I? Had I been guilty of making more of Joseph and his story than the Bible intended?
• This is not a book of sermons. I have not collected my sermons on the life of Joseph and edited them into book form.
• This is not a commentary on Genesis 37–50.
• My goal in this book was not to find Christ behind every rock. It was, however, to be mindful of the gospel at every turn. The only character worth exalting in Scripture is the character of Christ. Anything we see in the character of another is only praiseworthy to the degree that it reflects the character of Christ. The Bible is not a book of character studies; it is a book of redemption. Joseph is a link in the chain of redemption. Therefore, reading and interpreting the life of Joseph, if done right, will exalt God’s redemptive work. It is my sincere hope that this is precisely what this book does.
• If you are familiar with the story of Joseph at all, you probably think about it in moralistic categories.
• The first reason we tend to revert to moralism is the fact that God’s law “is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12).
• A second temptation to an overreliance on moralism is the prevalence of sin.
• Ultimately, we lean toward moralism.
• You and I do the exact same thing every time we read the Bible! More importantly, we act out our hypocrisy in practical ways every day of our lives. We look for specks in our children, our coworkers, our teammates, and our friends. And our hypocrisy infects the way we read the Bible in general, and Old Testament narrative in particular.
• Finding that something more involves changing the way we read the Bible. If we read the Bible like a book of principles and principals, we will find precisely that. However, if we remember a few interpretive keys, we will find much more.
• One of the most important hermeneutical keys we can use in interpreting biblical texts is the distinction between indicatives and imperatives.
• For example, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). This is a classic imperative. “Work out” is a command, an imperative for the reader.
• However, the very next verse is in the indicative mood: “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (v. 13). Here we are not told to “do” anything. We are merely told of the reality that makes it possible for us to do anything.
• First, if we mistake indicatives for imperatives, we will attempt to work for that which we can never accomplish.
• Second, if we mistake imperatives for indicatives, we will leave undone that which we ought to do.
• Imperatives are commands. They are to be done.
• First, if we mistake indicatives for imperatives, we will attempt to work for that which we can never accomplish. An indicative tells us who we are because of what God has done. Pursuing that in and of ourselves is a form of works righteousness.
• So how does this apply to the Joseph narrative? Is the Joseph narrative riddled with indicatives and imperatives? If so, how do we differentiate between the two?
• We tend to moralize narrative passages because they are inherently indicative in nature.
• How, then, do we interpret the deeper theological meaning behind the text? Is there some guide that can give us a clue? The answer is yes. God has given us the New Testament!
• First, New Testament authors have addressed the Joseph narrative and can help us put it in perspective.
• All this means we need to look to the New Testament whenever possible to find our bearings in the Old Testament. In the case of the Joseph narrative, two main places (and two New Testament authors) deal with the story. Luke gives us a glimpse into the proper interpretation and proclamation of Joseph’s life in his account of Stephen’s sermon (Acts 7). The author of Hebrews gives us another example as he recounts Joseph’s story in the “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11. We will examine both.
• Even when New Testament authors do not address the Joseph story directly, they address the moral, theological, and historical issues present in the narrative. New Testament authors deal with things like jealousy, bitterness, hatred, murder, forgiveness, and reconciliation. All these and more riddle the Joseph narrative from beginning to end.
• Thus, rather than wracking our brains to find what we “feel” or “think” Moses is trying to say, our primary inclination must be to interpret Old Testament texts in light of the way they are fleshed out in the New Testament.
• A broader and more significant principle of interpreting the Old Testament is found in Christ. He is, in fact, the interpretive key to the Old Testament. This is not merely conjecture or opinion. Jesus teaches as much from his own mouth in a number of instances.
• Therefore, Jesus taught that Genesis was about him.
• Nowhere is this idea that the Old Testament points to Christ communicated more clearly than in the Lord’s discourse on the road to Emmaus:
• This does not mean that morality is irrelevant.
• One of the chief complaints against the redemptive-historical approach to Scripture is that it promotes antinomianism, or at least that it emphasizes indicatives at the expense of imperatives. In other words, redemptive-historical preaching is seen as “soft on sin” because it doesn’t press people to action or obedience, but instead calls upon them to simply rest in Christ’s redemptive work.
• This does not mean that we find Jesus in every verse.
• Another objection to the redemptive-historical approach to Old Testament narrative is that it inevitably leads to allegorizing the text. Suddenly, every part of the story refers to an aspect of Christ.
• This does mean we read the story of Joseph in light of Christ.
• Far from making the Bible more difficult to read and understand, the approach we will take in this book is designed to make the Bible more accessible. We’re taking what we already know—the story of God’s redemption of sinners through the person and work of Christ—and using it as a grid through which we interpret all of Scripture. We’re unlocking the Old Testament!
• In short, we cannot understand Joseph until we understand Genesis. And that is the main reason we get Joseph so wrong.
• The first and most obvious way to divide Genesis is by taking note of the eleven mile markers Moses gives us, called toledots. Toledot is the Hebrew word for generations, genealogy, or family line.
• Adam: The Toledot of the Fall (Gen. 5:1) The next toledot begins a series of ten that all refer to the major (and a few minor) players in Genesis. This one, however, is perhaps the most important because it is the touchstone for all the rest. The promise of a Redeemer back in Genesis 3:15 serves as a catalyst for tracing the lineage of Adam to the one who will crush the head of the snake and restore what Adam has lost.
• We must ask ourselves how Joseph’s life connects to this toledot if we are to see him in the context of the entire book of Genesis. What does Joseph have to do with the promised seed? Is he in the line of the promised seed?
• Like changing seasons that mark the pattern of time, the themes of land, seed, and covenant appear again and again in the book of Genesis to mark the progression of redemptive history.
• The land is the place where God’s creative work takes place; it is the place where God makes and meets man; it is the substance out of which he makes man.
• What, then, does the theme of the land have to do with the life of Joseph? This question must be answered if we intend to interpret the story of Joseph rightly. It is significant that Joseph’s story starts in Canaan, the Land of Promise, but ends in Egypt, the land of suffering and oppression. As we come to the Joseph narrative, this contrast will prove quite significant.
• While the land is the place where the drama of redemptive history plays out, the seed is the mechanism by which redemption is accomplished. Thus, there is an important relationship between the land and the seed.
• Thus, the principle of the fall and the seed is also the message of redemption. This Promised Seed is not the product of the fall; he is the answer to it. It is because of the Promised Seed that we have hope.
• What, then, does the theme of the seed have to do with the life of Joseph? Joseph is not the promised seed. The question we must ask, then, is, what is the significance of Joseph’s relationship to the promised seed? Again, to ignore this question is to fail to understand Joseph in the context of Genesis as a whole and in the context of specific themes and divisions of Genesis into which he is placed.
• The third theme running throughout the Genesis narrative, without which it is impossible to interpret the story properly, is the theme of covenant.
• From the covenant of works, which Adam broke, to the Noahic covenant after the flood, to the Abrahamic covenant, Genesis is a book of covenants.
• If we understand the themes of seed, land, and covenant, we will see Joseph’s story through an entirely different light than perhaps we’re used to. More importantly, viewing Joseph through this threefold lens doesn’t just give us a different perspective; it gives us the perspective that God, through Moses, intended us to have.
• Joseph is one of three major biblical characters in whom no sin is revealed. Like Jesus and Daniel, Joseph is presented as a flawless hero. However, while Jesus is in fact sinless, the same is not true of Joseph and Daniel. Thus, we must be careful not to assume that the absence of information about Joseph’s sinfulness is meant to indicate anything about his need for a Savior.
• The temptation is to view Joseph as an example of sinless perfection. However, that is not the author’s intent. Moses is not trying to paint a portrait of Joseph; he is displaying God’s glory. In order to do this, he juxtaposes the best of Joseph with the worst of his brothers.
• While Joseph is innocent in the matter, Jacob is not. Jacob continues the tradition of bad parenting practiced by his father, Isaac. This is evident in Jacob’s actions in 37:3: “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors.” Just as Isaac had chosen Esau over Jacob, Jacob now chooses Joseph over his brothers. At this point, the careful reader must wonder why Jacob would subject his children to the same treatment that had so ravaged his life as a young man.
• It is not enough to know that Joseph’s brothers (and his father) were flawed, sinful men. Moses intends for us to see the distinction between Joseph and his brothers.
• In stark contrast to Joseph’s obedience, Moses presents the rest of Jacob’s sons as a unified band of hate-filled, murderous, disobedient men whose hearts are set on anything but their father’s desires.
• One inescapable truth we find in Genesis 37 and elsewhere in the Joseph story is that obedience does not guarantee success or ease.
• Genesis 39 has a clear theme. Four times we read that the Lord was with Joseph (vv. 2, 3, 21, 23). One need not wonder what the author is trying to communicate here. This is not a lesson about fleeing sexual temptation (though the passage does provide the most vivid picture of such); this is a lesson in divine providence.
• Understanding the doctrine of providence is the key to interpreting the life of Joseph rightly.
• While sovereignty addresses God’s authority to rule and govern his creation, providence addresses the manner in which he does so.
• And while he would not know that for quite some time (more than a decade, in fact), God’s providence was still governing his steps:
• Genesis 40 stands as a reminder that God is at work even when we cannot see or know what he is doing.
• Genesis 41 is the most pivotal chapter in the Joseph narrative. In fact, it is one of the most pivotal chapters in the entire Bible. It is also one of the most misinterpreted chapters in the Bible.
• In viewing Joseph’s life this way, chapter 41 appears to be the big payoff we’ve been waiting for. He has remained faithful, and God is rewarding him with fame, fortune, and family.
• Thus, this part of the Joseph narrative—the naming of his sons—touches on two of our key themes: covenant and land. First, he identifies himself with the people of the covenant. Joseph is a Hebrew, a servant of Yahweh. He is not an Egyptian pagan.
• Second, Joseph identifies himself with the Land of Promise, not with the land of Egypt.
• In short, God sent Joseph to Egypt not to become rich and powerful, but to preserve the promised seed and ensure the salvation of God’s people, both in the short run (Israel/Judah) and in the long run (all those who belong to the Lion of Judah)! Praise be to God! How dare we turn this into a ditty about material wealth!
• How many times have we interpreted Genesis 41 wrongly? I’m almost ashamed to answer that question. My natural tendency to read Scripture like a Hollywood screenplay has led me countless times to either think or teach that the great lessons of Genesis 41 center around the reward of material wealth.
• The New Testament writers make no mention of Joseph’s rise to prominence in Egypt. Instead, they focus on his choice of covenant over convenience.
• However, we must remember our goal. We want to see how the story of Joseph fits in the context of redemptive history.
• In order to discern their spiritual condition, Joseph subjects his brothers to seven tests.
• Test 1: Is Benjamin Alive?
• Test 2: Will Someone Volunteer to Get Benjamin?
• Test 3: Will Someone Volunteer to Stay?
• Test 4: Will Someone Come for Simeon?
• Test 5: How Will They Respond to the Money?
• Test 6: Have They Earned Jacob’s Trust?
• Test 7: Have They Earned Benjamin’s Trust?
• While these seven tests do not relate to us directly, the four categories they cover most certainly do: (1) Do the sins of your past continue to characterize your present? (2) Have you learned to love one another? (3) How will you respond when facing a moral dilemma? and (4) Have those closest to you seen a change?
• Three crucial features of Judah’s plea show him not only to be the leader of the patriarch’s sons, but the forerunner of Christ.
• A Pledge to His Father.
• A Plea to Joseph.
• A Pardon for Benjamin.
• As Judah offers himself as a ransom for his brother, his transformation is complete. He has gone from being the leading voice in the chorus that led to Joseph’s exile to being the lone voice surrendering himself and his freedom in order to return Benjamin to his father.
• This portrait of Judah is nothing short of a spiritual transformation. This is not desperation or fear. Judah has been changed. The Lord has done a work in the son of promise.
• Second, Judah’s new role explains the placement and prominence of Genesis 38 in the broader narrative. If this story is ultimately about Joseph, the inclusion of Judah’s excursion makes no sense. However, if, as the unfolding narrative reveals, Judah is God’s choice among his brothers, then the trajectory of his life is an essential part of the Joseph narrative, since he personifies God’s redemptive purpose for Joseph.
• It is impossible to read this paragraph without seeing the incredible parallel between Israel’s entrance into Egypt and their eventual exodus, and between Joseph and Moses.
• Chapter 47 is a study in contrasts. Just like chapter 37 gave us a stark contrast between Joseph and his brothers, this chapter does so with Israel and Egypt.
• The shepherd theme is prominent in redemptive history.
• The crossing of Israel’s hands to bless Ephraim before Manasseh continues another theme prevalent in Genesis. Both Isaac and Jacob were the second sons born to their fathers. Judah, too, was not the firstborn. The subtle message in Genesis is that birth order is not the deciding factor in covenant blessing. The not-so-subtle message in the New Testament is that this is a matter of election and grace, not will and work.
• This is also a beautiful picture of the doctrine of adoption. We, like Ephraim and Manasseh, have been adopted into the covenant family. As a result, we are “pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by him as by a father, yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption, and inherit the promises as heirs of everlasting salvation” (Second London Baptist Confession, 12).
• As we turn toward the final two chapters of the Joseph narrative, and the end of the book of Genesis, we do so knowing that Joseph is not the focus. We now see that his story is indeed a branch of Jacob’s story. We no longer need to be convinced that Joseph was in Egypt for something more than just revenge. He was there for redemption. Now that the first part of that redemption, the redemption of his family from the famine, has been realized, it is time to turn our attention to the redemption of God’s people through the nation he is building and protecting in the incubator of Egypt.
• We find four major themes in the blessing that bear further examination. The Preeminence of Judah
• The Praise of Judah
• The Power of Judah
• The Prosperity of Judah
• In another twist of irony, Joseph makes the return journey as an obedient son fulfilling the wishes of his father. This is exactly what he was on the day he was sold into slavery. Only this time (1) he has changed direction. He is not going toward his ancestral home but is moving away from it; (2) he has companions. On his previous journey, he was alone. Now he travels with his brothers and a band of Egyptians; (3) he is leading a caravan as opposed to being hauled off by one; (4) his brothers are joining him as he pursues his father’s wishes, as opposed to planning to kill him in spite of his father’s love for him; and (5) he knows now that he will be seeing his ancestral home for the last time, whereas last time he had no earthly idea.
• Joseph was not the promised seed. Nor was he the central focus of God’s redemptive plan in the pages we’ve examined. However, he was, by God’s grace, a child of God who was a picture of faithfulness. As such, God was with him. God was gracious toward him. Nowhere is that more evident than in the final paragraph of the book of Genesis.
• Judah has been identified as the son of promise. He was the reason Joseph came to Egypt. He is the one to lead the family, to carry on the line that will culminate in the Messiah.
• The most beautiful aspect of this entire narrative is Joseph’s ability to forgive.
• What happened to Joseph was unthinkable. Our natural response is to think that he would have been well within his rights to use his power and position to retaliate against his brothers. However, he does not. He looks to God’s sovereignty and trusts his providence. The result is forgiveness.
• Joseph cancels the debt. That, after all, is what forgiveness means.
• If you take nothing else from the story of Joseph, take this: forgive!
• However, the greater echo calling out from the end of Genesis is the echo of Christ, the Messiah, the Promised Seed. We have caught a glimpse of the Savior to come. He is the Lion of Judah! At the close of Genesis, we can almost hear him roar. No longer are we tempted to limit the Joseph narrative to the story of a boy prospering far away from home. Our attention has been drawn far afield. Joseph is a player in a much more significant drama. God redeems Judah so Judah’s son David can be king, and his greater Son, Jesus, can be King of kings, and the Redeemer of God’s elect.

Gospel Transformation BibleESV Gospel Transformation Bible
****

When I first heard of this new Bible my first thought was “Do we really need another Study Bible? Don’t we have enough of them, even in Reformed circles (Reformation Study Bible, ESV Study Bible, MacArthur Study Bible, etc.).

But this new Study Bible is different from the others. First, it boasts of a strong team of over 50 pastors and scholars who contributed to the Gospel Transformation Bible notes and book introductions. The list of contributors definitely got my attention. They include our own Dr. VanGemeren, who wrote the notes for Genesis. There are also five contributors who I have had the pleasure to take classes with at Covenant Seminary – Scotty Smith (twice), Dan Doriani (twice), Robert Peterson (twice), Mary Beth McGreevy and Robert Yarbrough. Other Covenant Seminary contributors are Hans Bayer, C.D. (Jimmy) Agan III, Jay Sklar, and W. Brian Aucker. Other contributors include current Grace Presbyterian pastor Bryan Chapell, Kevin DeYoung, Burk Parsons, Michael Horton, J.D. Greear and Kent Hughes are others of note.

In the introduction, Chapell tells us that a major goal of the Gospel Transformation Bible is to help readers apply gospel truths to their everyday lives. Other points from his introduction include:

• Faithful application typically answers four questions: 1) What to do? 2) Where to do it? 3) Why to do it? and 4) How to do it? Previous application-focused Study Bibles have emphasized the first two of these questions. The Gospel Transformation Bible, while not ignoring the first two questions, seeks to be a primary resource for the latter two.

• Contributors’ notes indicate how the unfolding gospel truths in any given passage of Scripture motivate and enable believers to honor their Savior from the heart—in short, how grace transforms them.

• Our goal is to make plain the imperatives of God’s Word, while undermining the human reflex to base God’s affection on human performance. Contributors have therefore indicated how the indicatives of the gospel (i.e., the status and privileges believers have by virtue of God’s grace alone) provide motivation and power for God’s people to honor him from the heart.

• By showing how grace motivates and empowers the Christian life, the heart-application that the Gospel Transformation Bible commentators provide is not a legalistic add-on to Bible exposition. These reflections on how we can apply the Bible to our lives in a grace-centered way are rather the spiritual unfolding of the implications of the gospel in the life of the believer.

• This edition of the ESV Bible features study notes for the entire Bible that show readers, passage by passage, how each particular book carries forward God’s redemptive purposes in history, culminating in Christ. These notes enable readers to see how the gospel of grace is the overarching message of the Bible, and how it transforms the human heart.

• Introductions to each book of the Bible are also provided, which include a section called “The Gospel in [Book].” This section orients readers to the big picture of how that book develops the story line of God’s redemptive plan.

Desiring God featured a helpful article entitled “20 Quotes from the Gospel Transformation Bible”. You can read that article here: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/20-quotes-from-the-gospel-transformation-bible

For more information about this fine new Bible, go to http://gospeltransformationbible.org/

 

Crazy BusyCrazy Busy: A Mercifully Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung. Crossway. 2013.

****

Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. I’ve previously read two of his books (Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be, with Ted Kluck, and last year’s The Hole in Our Holiness). I also subscribe to his blog DeYoung, Restless and Reformed http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/ and sermon podcast. I was pretty excited when I heard that he was writing a book about being busy. More often than not, when you ask someone how they are doing these days, they respond with how busy they are. But are many of us doing anything about it?

DeYoung states that he is writing the book for himself:

“I’m writing this book to figure out things I don’t know and to work on change I have not yet seen. More than any other book I’ve worked on, this one is for me.”

I highlighted a large number of passages in this short (128 page) book. Below are many that I would like to share with you:

• Besides, when it comes down to it, we are all busy in the same sorts of ways. Whether you are a pastor, a parent, or a pediatrician, you likely struggle with the crushing weight of work, family, exercise, bills, church, school, friends, and a barrage of requests, demands, and desires. No doubt, some people are quantitatively less busy than others and some much more so, but that doesn’t change the shared experience: most everyone I know feels frazzled and overwhelmed most of the time.

• My outline is as simple as three numbers: 3, 7, and 1: three dangers to avoid (chapter 2), seven diagnoses to consider (chapters 3–9), and one thing you must do (chapter 10). I don’t promise total transformation. I offer no money-back guarantees. My goal is more modest. I hope you’ll find a few ways to tackle your schedule, several suggestions for reclaiming your sanity, and a lot of encouragement to remember your soul.

• We are so busy with a million pursuits that we don’t even notice the most important things slipping away.

• In his book The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness, Tim Chester suggests twelve diagnostic questions to determine how ill we’ve become with “hurry sickness.”

“Do you regularly work thirty minutes a day longer than your contracted hours?”

“Do you check work e-mails and phone messages at home?”

“Has anyone ever said to you, ‘I didn’t want to trouble you because I know how busy you are’?”

“Do your family or friends complain about not getting time with you?”

“If tomorrow evening were unexpectedly freed up, would you use it to do work or a household chore?”

“Do you often feel tired during the day or do you find your neck and shoulders aching?”

“Do you often exceed the speed limit while driving?”

“Do you make use of any flexible working arrangements offered by your employers?”

“Do you pray with your children regularly?”

“Do you have enough time to pray?”

“Do you have a hobby in which you are actively involved?”

“Do you eat together as a family or household at least once a day?”

• There are two realities of the modernized, urbanized, globalized world that most everyone else in human history could not fathom: our complexity and our opportunity.

• So don’t ignore the physical danger of busyness. Just remember the most serious threats are spiritual. When we are crazy busy, we put our souls at risk. The challenge is not merely to make a few bad habits go away. The challenge is to not let our spiritual lives slip away. The dangers are serious, and they are growing. And few of us are as safe as we may think.

• The first danger is that busyness can ruin our joy. This is the most immediate and obvious spiritual threat.

• When our lives are frantic and frenzied, we are more prone to anxiety, resentment, impatience, and irritability.

• The second danger is that busyness can rob our hearts.

• John Calvin says the human heart is “a thick forest of thorns.”10 Jesus names two in particular. The first he labels “the cares of the world” (Mark 4:19).

• A second thorn is related to the first. Jesus says the work of the Word is swallowed up by the desire for other things.

• As much as we must pray against the Devil and pray for the persecuted church, in Jesus’ thinking the greater threat to the gospel is sheer exhaustion.

• Busyness kills more Christians than bullets.

• The third danger is that busyness can cover up the rot in our souls.

• The presence of extreme busyness in our lives may point to deeper problems—a pervasive people-pleasing, a restless ambition, a malaise of meaninglessness.

• The greatest danger with busyness is that there may be greater dangers you never have time to consider.

• Busyness does not mean you are a faithful or fruitful Christian. It only means you are busy, just like everyone else.

• Diagnosis #1: You Are Beset with Many Manifestations of Pride

• Which means our understanding of busyness must start with the one sin that begets so many of our other sins: pride.

• People-pleasing. We are busy because we try to do too many things. We do too many things because we say yes to too many people. We say yes to all these people because we want them to like us and we fear their disapproval.

• Pats on the back. This is the most obvious kind of pride: living for praise. It’s similar to people-pleasing, except less motivated by fear than by a desire for glory.

• Performance evaluation. As in, we tend to overrate our own.

• Because we regard ourselves so highly, we overestimate our importance.

• But the truth is, you’re only indispensable until you say no.

• Possessions. We work to earn, and we earn to spend. We stay busy because we want more stuff.

• It’s not wrong to want a new couch or even a new house. The problem comes when we take pride in our possessions, or, more subtly, when we are too proud to trust in God no matter what happens with our possessions.

• Proving myself. God is not against ambition. Too many Christians lack the initiative, courage, and diligence that ambition inspires. But ambition for our own glory must not be confused with ambition for God’s glory. Some of us never rest because we are still trying to prove something to our parents, our ex-girlfriend, or our high school coach.

• Pity. Let’s face it: people feel sorry for us when we’re busy. If we get our lives under control, we won’t seem nearly so impressive and people won’t ooh and aah over our burdens. Many of us feel proud to be so busy, and we enjoy the sympathy we receive for enduring such heroic responsibilities.

• Poor planning. I can look back and see many times in ministry where I was too hesitant to hand over certain tasks to others.

• I let my planning be dictated by pride rather than by what would best serve my soul, my family, and my church.

• Power. “I need to stay busy because I need to stay in control.”

• Perfectionism. “I can’t let up because I can’t make a mistake.”

• Position. “I do too much because that’s what people like me are supposed to do.”

• Prestige. “If I keep pushing myself, I’ll finally be somebody. I’ll finally matter. I’ll finally arrive.” Nonsense. You won’t be satisfied.

• Posting. If we’re honest, pride lies behind much of the social media revolution. I’ve often had to ask myself, “Why am I blogging? Why I am tweeting? Is it for my name and my fame?”

• Here’s the bottom line: of all the possible problems contributing to our busyness, it’s a pretty good bet that one of the most pervasive is pride.

• As you can gather from these questions, pride is not always easy to detect. While we may all, to some degree, be busy because of pride, that doesn’t mean every bit of busyness is the direct result of pride.

• So how can we tell when we are frantic and overwhelmed because of pride and when we are busy for nobler reasons?

• As I try to discern what’s people-pleasing, self-aggrandizing pride, and what’s genuine service to others, I try to keep in mind this simple question: Am I trying to do good or to make myself look good?

• Here are some of thoughts that have helped me get out from under the terror of total obligation. I am not the Christ.

There is good news.

Care is not the same as do.

We have different gifts and different callings.

Remember the church.

I can always pray right now.

Jesus didn’t do it all.

I Can’t Do It All

• Diagnosis #3: You Can’t Serve Others without Setting Priorities

• And this means coming to grips with three unassailable truths. Truth #1: I Must Set Priorities because

• In the real world of finite time, we often have to discern good and better from best.

• Truth #2: I Must Set Priorities If I Am to Serve Others Most Effectively

• Stewarding my time is not about selfishly pursuing only the things I like to do. It’s about effectively serving others in the ways I’m best able to serve and in the ways I am most uniquely called to serve.

• This means, in addition to setting priorities, I must establish posteriorities. This is Drucker’s word for the things that should be at the end (posterior) of our to-do list. These are the things we decide not to do for the sake of doing the things we ought to do. Making goals is not enough. We must establish what tasks and troubles we will not tackle at all.

• Truth #3: I Must Allow Others to Set Their Own Priorities

• Diagnosis #4: You Need to Stop Freaking Out about Your Kids

• What’s important is the realization—one any of our parents could confirm—that today’s family is structured around the life of the child as never before. Man has not always lived under Kindergarchy.

• But you could also call it Kindergarchy: rule by children.

• That’s why one of the best things we can do for our kids is to find a way to stop being so frantic and frazzled.

• Tne key question asked the kids what one thing they would change about the way their parents’ work was affecting them. The results were striking. The kids rarely wished for more time with their parents, but, much to the parents’ surprise, they wished their parents were less tired and less stressed.

• The biggest weakness, according to the kids, was anger management. More than 40 percent of kids gave their moms and dads a C, D, or F on controlling their temper. It was the worst grade on the children’s parental report card.

• Our children, Caplan argues, are suffering from “secondhand stress.”

• By trying to do so much for them, we are actually making our kids less happy. It would be better for us and for our kids if we planned fewer outings, got involved in fewer activities, took more breaks from the kids, did whatever we could to get more help around the house, and made parental sanity a higher priority.

• Diagnosis #5: You Are Letting the Screen Strangle Your Soul

• Let me simply suggest three ways in which the digital revolution is an accomplice to our experience of being crazy busy.

• First, there is the threat of addiction.

• That may sound like too strong a word, but that’s what it is. Could you go a whole day without looking at Facebook? Could you go an afternoon without looking at your phone? What about two days away from e-mail?

• Many of us are simply overcome—hour after hour, day after day—by the urge to connect online. And as Christians we know that “whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved” (2 Pet. 2:19).

• Second, there is the threat of acedia. Acedia suggests indifference and spiritual forgetfulness.

• For too many of us, the hustle and bustle of electronic activity is a sad expression of a deeper acedia.

• We are always engaged with our thumbs, but rarely engaged with our thoughts. We keep downloading information, but rarely get down into the depths of our hearts. That’s acedia—purposelessness disguised as constant commotion.

• All of this leads directly to the third threat of our digital world, and that’s the danger that we are never alone. I’m talking about our desire to never be alone.

• Peter Kreeft is right: “We want to complexify our lives. We don’t have to, we want to. We want to be harried and hassled and busy. Unconsciously, we want the very things we complain about.

• And nothing allows you to be busy—all the time, with anyone anywhere—like having the whole world in a little black rectangle in your pocket.

• Cultivate a healthy suspicion toward technology and “progress.”

• Be more thoughtful and understanding in your connectedness with others.

• Deliberately use “old” technology.

• Make boundaries, and fight with all your might to protect them.

• The simplest step to breaking the tyranny of the screen is also the hardest step: we can’t be connected all the time.

• And most of us would find new freedom if we didn’t check our phones as the last and first thing we do every day. Of all the little bad habits I have that contribute to my busyness, the habit of checking my e-mail right before I go to bed and checking it as soon as I wake up is probably the worst.

• Bring our Christian theology to bear on these dangers of the digital age.

• But because we have a God who chose us in eternity past and looks at a day as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day, we will not be infatuated with the latest fads and trends. And because of the incarnation, we understand there is no substitute for dwelling with physical people in a physical place. So we do not accept virtual encounters as adequate substitutes for flesh and blood relationships.

• Likewise, because we understand our worth as image-bearers and our identity as children of God, we will not look to the Internet to prove that we are important, valuable, and loved. And because we accept the presence of indwelling sin, we will not be blind to the potential idolatries and temptations we can succumb to online. And because we know ourselves to be fallen creatures, we will accept the limits of our human condition. We cannot have meaningful relationships with thousands of people. We cannot really know what is going on in the world. We cannot be truly here and there at the same time. The biggest deception of our digital age may be the lie that says we can be omni-competent, omni-informed, and omni-present. We cannot be any of these things. We must choose our absence, our inability, and our ignorance—and choose wisely. The sooner we embrace this finitude, the sooner we can be free.

• Diagnosis #6: You’d Better Rest Yourself before You Wreck Yourself

• Whatever your take on the specific dos and don’ts of Sunday, I hope every Christian can agree that God has made us from the dust to need regular times of rest. He built it into the creation order and commanded it of his people.

• If my goal is God-glorifying productivity over a lifetime of hard work, there are few things I need more than a regular rhythm of rest.

• The Bible commends hard work (Prov. 6:6–11; Matt. 25:14–30; 1 Thess. 2:9; 4:11–12; 2 Thess. 3:10) and it also extols the virtue of rest (Ex. 20:8–11; Deut. 5:12–15; Ps. 127:2). Both have their place. The hard part is putting them in the right places.

• Which is why it’s so concerning that our lives are getting more and more rhythm-less. We don’t have healthy routines. We can’t keep our feasting and fasting apart. Evening and morning have lost their feel. Sunday has lost its significance. Everything is blurred together. The faucet is a constant drip.

• Pursuing a pattern of work and rest means more than an annual retreat or a weekly Sabbath. It means quite practically a daily fight to get more sleep.

• By all accounts, we are sleeping less than ever before. The average American gets two and a half fewer hours of sleep per night than a century ago.

• Most of us could improve our lives significantly by simply getting to bed a little earlier.

• Diagnosis #7: You Suffer More because You Don’t Expect to Suffer at All

• Busyness, as I’ve been diagnosing it, is as much a mind-set and a heart sickness as it is a failure in time management.

• The antidote to busyness of soul is not sloth and indifference. The antidote is rest, rhythm, death to pride, acceptance of our own finitude, and trust in the providence of God.

• The busyness that’s bad is not the busyness of work, but the busyness that works hard at the wrong things. Its being busy trying to please people, busy trying to control others, busy trying to do things we haven’t been called to do.

• But I know from personal experience that some forms of busyness are from the Lord and bring him glory.

• Paul was busy, in all the right ways. If you love God and serve others, you will be busy too. Sometimes we will get frazzled. We will feel pressure. We will be tired. We will get discouraged. We will feel exhausted. We will say, “Who is weak, and I am not weak?” (2 Cor. 11:29). But be encouraged. God uses weak things to shame the strong (1 Cor. 1:27). His grace is sufficient for you; his power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). For the sake of Christ, we must be content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. And yes, sometimes we must be content with busyness. For when you are weak, then you are strong (v. 10). Paul had pressure. You have pressure too. But God can handle the pressure. Do not be surprised when you face crazy weeks of all kinds. And do not be surprised when God sustains you in the midst of them.

• We are all very busy, but not with what matters most.

• We must make learning from him and taking time to be with him a priority. The priority, in fact.

• I know you have things to do. I have plenty to do myself. But out of all the concerns in our lives, can we honestly say and show that sitting at the feet of Jesus is the one thing that is necessary?

• If you are sick and tired of feeling so dreadfully busy and are looking for a one-point plan to help restore order to your life, this is the best advice I know: devote yourself to the Word of God and prayer. This means public worship and private worship.

• We have to believe that the most significant opportunity before us every day is the opportunity to sit at the feet of Jesus. We won’t rearrange our priorities unless we really believe this is the best one.

• I hope you can tell that this book has been for me as much as for anyone.

• Making consistent time for the Word of God and prayer is the place to start because being with Jesus is the only thing strong enough to pull us away from busyness.

• We won’t say no to more craziness until we can say yes to more Jesus.

• It’s not wrong to be tired. It’s not wrong to feel overwhelmed. It’s not wrong to go through seasons of complete chaos. What is wrong—and heartbreakingly foolish and wonderfully avoidable—is to live a life with more craziness than we want because we have less Jesus than we need.

This short book would be a good one to read and discuss with a friend or in a small group. A Study Guide has been prepared for the book. To get a copy, go to http://crazybusybook.com/images/Crazy%20Busy.533389.StudyGuide.WithCover.pdf

 

Killing JesusKilling Jesus: A History by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. Henry Holt. 289 pages. 2013. Audiobook read by Bill O’Reilly.

*** ½

Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard are back for their third Killing book, having previously written the best-sellers Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy. These books are written like historical novels, are entertaining and move quickly. Like I did with the first two books, I listened to the audiobook version, read well by O’Reilly.

I was very much looking forward to this book, but also a little worried at how much the authors – who both describe themselves as Roman Catholic – might mess up “the greatest story ever told”.

We have to understand that the authors are not theologians, though O’Reilly has told interviewers that he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the book. The authors approach the story as history. I’ve read a number of reviews from critics pointing out errors in the book, just as they did in the previous two books. When you are trying to condense the story of the death of Christ into 289 pages you are not going to be able to include everything. In fact the authors tell their readers up front that they do not aim to suggest that they know everything about Jesus, but that they know much will tell us things that we might not have heard.

Early in the book I felt that the book lost focus in describing the history and politics of the ancient Mediterranean. One critic stated that of the first 80 or so pages, only 15 are about Jesus. I felt that they devoted far too much time to the history of Roman emperors and Israel’s Herod.

One point early in the book that caught my attention was that the authors stated that Jesus was 36 years old when he died. Traditionally, it is felt that Jesus started his three years of public ministry at age 30.

For the most part, I felt that the authors, using the four Gospels as source material, did a good job of telling the story of Jesus’ life and death. In interviews however, O’Reilly has said that they left out parts of the story that they didn’t believe happened as written. For example, they did not include Jesus saying from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”. O’Reilly, in his wisdom, states that they believer Jesus said those words, but not on the cross as written, because he could hardly breathe, and also because nobody could have heard it. Interesting. The authors also never state in the book that Jesus was the Son of God because the book was not intended to be religious.

O’Reilly has said that the most important thing he learned when writing the book was that Jesus became the most famous human being who ever lived, and yet he had no infrastructure – no government, no public relations expert, no money, no structure.

Despite the flaws noted, I would recommend the book, and believe that it will lead some to check out the full story of Jesus in the scriptures.

 

toxic charity

Toxic Charity – reviewed by Teri Williams

I am really not into reading non-fiction unless it has to do with sexually active teens, but since I have burned out on that material, let’s head in another direction. With retiring, I figure continuing to read will help me use and not lose my brain and thinking power too quickly. I need to stay useful.

Ministry has been my life and pondering what makes ministry effective is always the question or how can we be even more effective and promote life/heart change rather than quick behavioral intervention, which often ends up being short-term at best. Having just finished reading “Toxic Charity” by Robert D. Lupton, my thoughts are still in the ruminating mode, but Lupton did make a convincing case for re-evaluating the heart of volunteerism especially in America where we are quick to send money, probably because it is far easier than entering into messy situations personally and allows us to feel that we sure helped in some way! Sarcasm intended.

The inside cover of the book states the following; Public service is a way of life for Americans; giving is a part of our national character. But compassionate instincts and generous spirits aren’t enough, says veteran urban activist Robert D. Lupton . In this groundbreaking guide, he reveals the disturbing truth about charity: all too much of it has become toxic, devastating to the very people it’s meant to help……Our free food and clothing distribution encourages ever-growing handout lines, diminishing the dignity of the poor while increasing their dependency. We converge on inner-city neighborhoods to plant flowers and pick up trash, battering the pride of residents who have the capacity (and responsibility) to beautify their own environment. We fly off on mission trips to poverty stricken villages, hearts full of pity and suitcases bulging with giveaways–trips that one Nicaraguan leader describes as effective only in “turning my people into beggars.”

Step on any toes yet? Agree? Disagree? The thought struck me as I wrote that maybe this “quick fix” mentality is just an extension of the fast food mentality we have all come to live by—-drive thru, drive up, text, twitter, connect—–we don’t want to wait for anything. Hmmmmm…

At any rate, the book continues with examples of “toxic charity” all around the world. Lupton’s premise is that we need to move from toxic to transformative charity. Let me share just some of the thoughts that I continue to ruminate over.

–authentic relationships with those in need have a way of correcting the we-will-rescue-you mindset and replacing it with mutual admiration and respect

–is the need a crisis or is this chronic?

–when we do for those in need what they have the capacity to do for themselves, we disempower them

–for all our efforts to eliminate poverty in the United States, our entitlements, our programs, our charities, we have succeeded only in creating a permanent underclass, dismantling family structures, and eroding their ethic of work. And our poor continue to become poorer.

–the money spent by one campus ministry to cover the costs of their Central American mission trip to repaint an orphanage would have been sufficient to hire two local painters and two full-time teachers and purchase new uniforms for every student in the school.

–contrary to popular belief, most mission trips and service projects do not: empower those being served, improve local quality of life, relieve poverty, change the lives of participants or increase support for long term mission work.

–contrary to popular belief, most mission trips and service projects do: weaken those being served, foster dishonest relationships, erode recipients’ work ethic and deepen dependency.

Ouch! Read the book! There is so much more to his premise than criticism. Dr. Lupton spends the last few chapters of the book with a very detailed “how to” guide to transformative charity and no, it cannot happen in days or weeks, but over a period of months and years. The goal being life and heart change which impacts individuals, families, entire communities and becomes generational in its focus. This is a very thought provoking and potentially life changing read for anyone with a heart for others in need.

“If there is one take-away message that this book can offer to those in service work or supporting it, it is this: the poor, no matter how destitute, have enormous untapped capacity; find it, be inspired by it, and build upon it.” Dr. Robert D. Lupton

 

name-above-all-names
Name Above All Names by Alistair Begg and Sinclair Ferguson. Crossway. 192 pages. 2013.
****

At the 2012 Ligonier Ministries National Conference I asked Sinclair Ferguson what his next book would be. He said he had just written one with friend and fellow Scotsman Alistair Begg. I asked what it was about. He said “Why Jesus, of course!” This book is indeed about our Savior, and one that will cause you to fall in love with Him all over again.

The authors, who have been friends since the 1970s when they were both very young ministers in Scotland, write:

“This book, as its title suggests, is a brief exposition of what Christians often refer to as “the person and work of Christ.” Its focus is on some of the different ways in which the Bible portrays Christ’s identity and describes his ministry. The chapters are by no means exhaustive. They cover only seven of the many descriptions of Jesus found in the Bible, and none of those descriptions is treated exhaustively. So these pages are meant as a taster, a beginning exploration. Our joint prayer is that they will help some who are not yet Christians, be an eye-opener to those who already are, serve as an encouragement for mature believers, and be a pleasure for all who love Christ.”

The material for the book began to come together in its present form as the authors prepared for a conference at The Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tennessee.

The authors ask a favor from their readers:

“Standing in various pulpits in our native land of Scotland we have often seen words visible to the preacher but hidden from the congregation: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21). We ask you to make that your prayer as you begin to turn these pages.”

The book features a number of helpful illustrations and references to hymns, many of them written in the 1800’s.

There is much to treasure in this wonderful book by two of my favorite pastors and authors. The book covers the following aspects of Christ:

• The Seed of the Woman

• The True Prophet

• The Great High Priest

• The Conquering King

• The Son of Man

• The Suffering Servant

• The Lamb on the Throne

Here is a sampling of the treasures that the book offers:

• If that is to happen, there is no better place to start than where we suspect Jesus made his beginning, in Genesis 3:15—here in this promise of the conflict between the two seeds. The antagonists are first described as the seed of the woman and the seed of the Serpent. But the climax of the conflict is destined to be more personal and individual—between the seed of the woman and the Serpent itself. The final evil antagonist is no longer the seed of the Serpent but the Serpent itself. Implicitly, then, the final seed of the woman is also an individual. Each would crush the other. But whereas the Serpent would crush only the heel of the seed of the woman, the seed of the woman would crush the head of the Serpent—a blow that would prove fatal.

• When Christ appeared, he came to undo what the Serpent had done. By his life and ministry and ultimately through his death and resurrection, he destroyed all the works of the Devil.

• And so these words, almost at the beginning of Genesis, give us an important insight into the whole message of the Bible. It is a library of books that traces an ages-long cosmic conflict between the two “seeds.”

• And so from the beginning to the very end, from the garden of Eden turned into a desert because of sin, until in Revelation 21 and 22 when that desert is turned back into a garden, the whole of the Bible is the story of this conflict

• Jesus, the Last Adam, had to conquer in the context of the chaos the first Adam’s sin had brought into the world.

• The reason there is so much demon possession in the time period recorded by the Gospels is not—as is sometimes assumed—that demon possession was commonplace then. In fact it was not. Rather, the land then was demon-invaded because the Savior was marching to the victory promised in Genesis 3:15. And all hell was let loose in order to withstand him.

• It is the cross alone that ultimately proves the love of God to us—not the providential circumstances of our lives.

• Very few books have made more impact on our lives than the Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M‘Cheyne. Robert M‘Cheyne was the Scottish minister of St. Peter’s Church, Dundee, from 1836 to 1843. He died at the age of twenty-nine. But his life, his preaching, and indeed his whole ministry were marked by a profound Christ-centeredness.

• We often reflect on his words: “Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. Let your soul be filled with a sense of the excellence of Christ.”

• This is our great need—to have our minds and hearts filled with a sense of the greatness and incomparable glory of Christ.

• In many ways the church as a whole is indebted to John Calvin for explaining the importance of this “threefold office.”

• In a similar way we might say there are four R’s that are basic and essential to our knowing Christ as our prophet and enjoying communion with him.

• R 1: Required. Our fallen condition requires us to have Jesus as our prophet.

• Each of these three titles of Jesus—prophet, priest, king—contains an inherent judgment upon us. As king, Jesus comes to us to subdue our rebellion. As priest, he comes in order to deal with our sins. But the reason he comes to us as prophet is to deal with our ignorance.

• “Old Testament prophecy was a means by which an infallible God used fallible men to bring an infallible word to fallible people.”

• R 2: Revealed. Our second word is—not surprisingly—“revealed.”

• This prophetic, revelatory role is a vital part of the ministry of Jesus.

• It was as a prophet that Jesus was first acclaimed by his contemporaries

• R 3: Recognized. Ultimately Jesus must be recognized, not merely as a messenger of revelation from God but as the very source of that revelation. Jesus is not only the revealer; he is the revelation!

• The prophetic role of Jesus is required in order to dispel our ignorance. It is revealed in Jesus himself. It is recognized in all of its fullness at the end of his earthly ministry.

• These first three aspects describe his finished work, his fulfilled ministry. But there is a fourth aspect—his unfinished work. The fourth R is realized.

• The task of sharing the gospel involves simply and clearly bearing testimony to Christ. It involves saying who he is and what he has accomplished historically, explaining the significance of his death, the wonder of his resurrection, the fact of his ascension, and so on. And the promise of Christ is that in this ongoing ministry of God’s Word, he is present and he continues to speak.

• There is a vast difference between simply conveying information to people, which can be cold and ineffectual, and true preaching and witness.

• Quick as a flash, Professor Murray responded in Paul’s words: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”That’s it! This is not just for the pulpit and the big public occasion. This is for the grocery store, for the golf course, for the coffee shop. Wherever we tell others about the Lord Jesus, through God’s power and with an awareness that Christ himself is the great prophet of God, we say—in our own words—“I implore you. Be reconciled to God. Receive the reconciliation that he has provided.” And when God begins to work, people say, “I didn’t know about that; tell me more.” And we can respond, “Well then, I will be glad to tell you about it. Let me tell you the story.” And so we have the opportunity to speak into the darkness of their minds and the futility of their thinking.

• Listen to Calvin on this same theme: Some of us are good at boldness but not so good at compassion. We gravitate to all the bold verses but turn away from the gospel’s call to show genuine empathy.

• As Christ’s ministry now begins to unfold, we see that the designation “prophet” is inadequate to fully express the wonder of all he is and does. That is why we should never think of him as prophet except in the context of his threefold office. His prophetic ministry must never be isolated from his other two offices, as if somehow or another we could view Christ as prophet apart from his also being priest and king.

• “Priest” is the only title given to Jesus that has virtually an entire book of the New Testament devoted to explaining it—the letter to the Hebrews.

• We saw that Jesus’ ministry as prophet has both. They are both present in each of Jesus’ offices—prophetic, priestly, and kingly.

• He has cried, “It is finished.”In his death and resurrection he has done everything necessary for our salvation to be accomplished. But then he applies it.

• There is also, therefore, an unfinished work of Christ. Jesus has an ongoing ministry. As prophet he continues to speak to man from God.

• But Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice—man in place of men. His full, perfect, appropriate sacrifice was accepted by God. That is why God raised him from the dead. He is now seated at God’s right hand. He does not continue to stand like the priest of old, in a daily repetition of his sacrifice. He has no need to! As the high priest who is himself the sacrifice, he has finished his atoning work. In Christ our sins are fully and finally forgiven!22

• You may be the music director in a church, or its organist, or sing in its choir, or play in its worship ensemble; you may even be its minister. But the one thing you are not is the worship leader. Jesus is the worship leader.

• A man once told us that his son had been far from the Lord, but one night as he came home, he “happened” to pick up a recording of a sermon we had preached. The young man listened to the sermon every day for a month. On the last day of the month, he came to a living faith in Christ. What happened? He presumably did not realize what was happening to him; Christ was calling him; only slowly did that dawn on him. He heard the same human voice again and again, but then at last he heard the voice of Christ and responded.

• Jesus often spoke about the kingdom of God—it is a central theme in his message. He both preached and demonstrated that the kingdom of God had broken into the world in his coming.

• We have considered how Christ came as a prophet to oust our ignorance and as a priest to deal with our alienation and to lead us into God’s presence. Now we see him as a king who subdues all the tyrannical forces that are arraigned against us, and, yes, those that fight within us too.

• First, how he is king in relation to our salvation, then in relation to the cosmos, and finally in relation to the future.

• So Jesus has done everything that we needed to be saved from sin. He has done everything we needed in order for us to be saved from the judgment of death. And he has done everything necessary to set us free from the bondage of the Devil. In a word, he has done everything we need done for us but could never do for ourselves.

• When Paul wrote of the day when, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, “he was not describing the devotion of the worshiper but the identity of the one who is worshiped. He is proclaiming the divine identity of Jesus. Jesus is Lord. This isn’t a statement about my attitude to Jesus; it is a statement about who Jesus is. He is Lord.

• In the Gospels Jesus calls himself “the Son of Man” on about fifty separate occasions (not counting parallel passages).

• Have you, for example, ever noticed in all fifty or so times Jesus is called “the Son of Man” in the Gospels that the speaker is always—Jesus himself? Nobody else in the Gospels ever refers to him as the Son of Man.

• Simply on the basis of these statistics we could say that “the Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite self-designation. And when you analyze the fifty separate times Jesus uses the title, it seems fairly clear that, in his mind, this was the most comprehensive description of his identity, his work, and the significance of his ministry.

• The background, therefore, to Jesus’ use of the expression as a self-identifier seems to lie in the creation of Adam, the ministry of Ezekiel, and the vision of Daniel.

• So the immediate focus of Daniel’s vision is the completion of the earthly ministry of Jesus. Yes, he will come again in majesty and glory to end all history and bring in the new heavens and the new earth. But the focus of this vision is on the fruit of his first coming.

• The fifty or so individual sayings in which Jesus refers to himself as “Son of Man” fall essentially into three categories.

• “Category 1” sayings describe the incarnate Son of Man establishing his kingdom.

• The entire first half of our Lord’s earthly ministry is marked by this: his making inroads into the kingdom of darkness (by preaching, restoring, and instructing).

• The second category of Son of Man sayings focuses not just on the incarnate Son of Man establishing his kingdom but on the suffering Son of Man paying the redemption price for that kingdom.

• This brings us to the final category of these Son of Man sayings. We have seen that: Jesus is the incarnate Son of Man who establishes his kingdom. Jesus is the suffering Son of Man who purchases his kingdom. But now we must add a third dimension: Jesus is the triumphant Son of Man who will consummate his kingdom.

• The fourth of these songs, Isaiah 52:13–53:12, is by far the best known. Here the servant appears as the Suffering Servant—a portrait that profoundly influenced the way in which the New Testament writers spoke of Jesus.

• There is a mental dimension to this suffering. It has an intellectual aspect. There is also a psychosomatic aspect. Jesus is engulfed by the emotion of the occasion. He had repeatedly asserted the divine necessity of his suffering. But now he is imminently confronted by the ordeal.

• There is a physical aspect to this suffering. That bears saying. There is little need for elaboration, is there? Crucifixion is, surely, the most brutal, cruel, and unnatural punishment ever devised by man. We need to be clear that there was nothing in Christ’s humanity to blunt his emotions or to anaesthetize him to lessen his suffering. The horrific way the death penalty passed on him was carried out—despite all his innocence—is not part of a novel. It was reality.

• There is a social dimension to his suffering. You may never have thought that this could be of any real significance for Jesus. But think about it now. Jesus was friendly. Jesus didn’t go through his ministry as a rock or as an island.

• Our churches will have all too little ministry to the least and last, the lost and left out, until we are prepared to acknowledge that Christ himself was a suffering servant who entered into the depths of our humanity. We therefore, as followers of Jesus, albeit still sinners, must be suffering servants also.

• Yes, the servants of the Suffering Servant must suffer with him. It is the pathway to glory.

• The Triumphant One has two great titles. One—the Lion—goes back to Jacob’s dying prophecy about an individual who would come through the line of his son Judah—a lion-like figure who would reign, and whose reign would be marked by a divinely given abundance.

• But John looks and sees a lamb. His vision is filled with a tapestry-like presentation of the humility of Christ. Here is the one who was obedient to his Father, even to the point of submitting to death on a cross.

• They knew that God’s exodus deliverance came through the sacrificed Passover Lamb. They must also have thought of Isaiah 53 with its description of the Suffering Servant who was “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter.” This is the Lamb whom John sees—the “Lamb, standing as though it had been slain.” But he is no longer slain. He is standing! He is alive with resurrection life and power.

• But notice something else. It is still obvious that he once had been slain; his wounds are still visible. The wounds remind us of the costly death by which our redemption has been achieved; the fact that this slain Lamb stands reminds us of the triumph of his resurrection.

• Perhaps if we read the book of Revelation more with our eyes fixed on the Lord Jesus, we would be more enthusiastic about some of the older hymns.

• Christ sends us out into the neighborhoods, the workplaces, the institutions of our society, into the coffee shops, and into daily interaction with the warp and woof of life with a story to tell the nations. Christians have a story unlike any other story.

• And then John adds a beautiful little footnote with a little bit of poetic license in it: the Lamb who was slain for them has now become the Shepherd who leads them: The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water. and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

• Here it is, then—God’s final answer to all our alienation and dislocation. Here is the answer to the angst of our generation and of every generation. Who else can wipe away every tear from our eyes? Who else can enter into the depths of our circumstances and deal with them? Who else can supply living water so that we will never thirst again? Only Jesus. Only the one who is the Lamb of God.

• One day the shadows will flee away. The days of preparation will all come to an end. The final day will dawn. Already we acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. But then we will know him as we have never done before—in face-to-face fellowship. Then we will be made like him, for we shall see him as he is.

• We shall then see Jesus as the Seed of the Woman who crushed the Serpent’s head, as the Prophet of God whose word directs our lives, as the Great High Priest who intercedes for us, and as the King who subdues all our enemies and reigns over us forever. We will recognize him as the Son of Man seated beside the Ancient of Days, and as the Suffering Servant who is now exalted as the Lamb on the throne. On that day we will see with unclouded vision why his Father has given him the Name above All Names.

 

crazy loveCrazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God – Revised and Updated by Francis Chan with Danae Yankoski. David C. Cook. 2013 edition. Audiobook read by Francis Chan.

****

I have written a good deal about this book in the past. It is one of the books that has had the greatest impact on my life. Each time I listen (this book got me started on my passion for audiobooks) or read it, it always challenges me to move out of my comfort zone. I’ve probably listened to it or read it six times since its release in 2008.

The book has sold well over 2 million copies to date. A revised and updated edition was released in July, 2013, five years after the original release. The new edition includes a new Preface and an additional chapter, in which Chan writes about what has happened to him in the five years since the book was published. Among the many changes in his life, the most significant has been that he left Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, California and is now ministering in San Francisco. The new edition of the audiobook contains about 31 minutes of new content. In addition to reading or listening to the book, I would recommend watching some of the corresponding videos for the book, especially “Just Stop and Think”. You can find them at http://www.crazylovebook.com.

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