Searching for Grace: A Weary Leader, a Wise Mentor, and Seven Healing Conversations for a Parched Soul by Scotty Smith and Russ Masterson. Tyndale Momentum. 256 pages. 2021
Russ Masterson was a 35-year-old pastor who had just planted a church, and was attempting to keep his life under control. He was asking “How did I get here? and “How does this get better?” He attended a retreat and heard Scotty Smith speak, and Scotty’s words pierced his soul.
As his church grew, Russ’s questions and anxiety continued to grow as well. A year and a half after that retreat, Russ wrote Scotty and asked if he would mentor him, which Scotty agreed to. Russ tells us that Scotty came into his life at the intersection of head knowledge of the gospel and his anxious heart. As they met, Russ would take notes in his journal about what Scotty told him. During their monthly conversations, Russ would ask questions, and as Scotty and Russ talked, it was like time stood still. These were holy moments for Russ.
Russ wanted others to hear what he was hearing from Scotty so that they could live more peaceful lives. Learning how to live in the peace of God, through these seven conversations, is what this book is all about.
Throughout the book, Russ and Scotty tell their stories. Russ writes of performing and Scotty of hiding. Russ takes us through the pain and anxiety of leading his new church and suffering after the suicides of two friends. Scotty story is shaped by chapters of loss and by the fear of abandonment. Those that have read Scotty’s books, particularly Objects of His Affection: Coming Alive to the Compelling Love of God, one of my favorite books, will be familiar with some of the aspects of his story that he shares in this book.
This is a unique book that grew out of the mentoring relationship and conversations between Scotty and Russ. Having enjoyed Scotty’s books, daily prayers and two classes at Covenant Seminary, I have some idea of what it might be like to be mentored by Scotty. The book is primarily written in Russ’s voice, with Scotty contributing his own narratives throughout. All writing by Scotty is entitled “From Scotty”, including helpful “Prayerful Contemplation” questions at the end of each chapter.
The book features both authors being open and transparent about their stories. As such, it can at times be difficult to read about their pain. Among the subjects addressed in the book are vulnerability, marriage, friendship, ministry burnout, pain, abuse, healing, suffering, peace, prayer, success, work, contentment, relationships, death, stress, anxiety and busyness.
There is a corresponding Searching for Grace podcast about the seven conversations in the book, featuring Paul Tripp, Scott Sauls, Andrew Peterson, Dan Allender, Sandra McCracken and others.
Below are 20 of my favorite quotes from this excellent book:
- Who we are matters to God more than what we do. Our calling is to be worshipers, not workers; present, not impressive. Our truest identity is found in being God’s beloved sons and daughters.
- When you work hard to build a pain-free life, you never succeed. The pain will get repackaged and show up in other ways.
- Seek to live with gospel astonishment wherever God places you.
- The goal of the Christian life isn’t to get over stuff but to grow through it. Jesus’ promise of an abundant life doesn’t just include an abundance of things we enjoy but also an abundance of things that will make us more like him.
- The way of grace is a healing path, breaking the power of shame and offering the hope of resurrection.
- Biblical hope is an expectation of something to happen in the certainty of God. Our hope can be certain because it isn’t attached to a particular outcome but to God himself.
- We need presence in pain; we need the constant God who comforts those who have been broken, just as he was broken. God never promises explanation, but he does promise his presence.
- Sovereignty is comforting not because it gives me answers, but because it gives me God.
- No matter what we achieve, no matter what people think of us, we are always the same souls needing God’s tenacious grace to carry us along.
- Ministry-generated burnout is deceptive. We spin it as though we’re “sacrificing for God.” But in reality, with few boundaries and little accountability, vocational idolatry is a genuine threat.
- You perform, and I hide, but it’s really the same thing. It’s just a different strategy. We avoid our shame, fear, and pain while at the same time ignoring our beauty and worth. We say to our world, ‘Come close, but not too close. Notice me, but don’t know me.’”
- I have learned the hard way that trying to strong-arm God with our concerns only leaves us tired. But when we surrender our concerns to God, we find ourselves on a path of freedom and peace.
- Shame’s unrelenting declaration is: You aren’t enough. You aren’t welcome. You aren’t loved.
- Prayer is any time the heart and the mind are moving toward surrender with God.
- Prayer is relationship, not transaction.
- Suffering comes not just in the original event but also in the reaction to the event.
- The acceptance we long for is not self-acceptance, or even others – acceptance; it’s divine acceptance – a welcome and delight freely given to us by the one who created us.
- Of all the enemies of peace, shame is at the top. Only the grace of God can possibly begin to rewrite our shame.
- Any religion based on rule keeping sabotages the notion of a loving relationship. I believe this is the primary perversion of the gospel.
- If we assume that our deepest fulfillment and satisfaction can be found in work, romance, kids, possessions, or anything else other than the love of God, we’ll put expectations on those things that they can’t deliver. And we’ll never find the peace God made us to experience.
The Gospel According to Jesus: What Is Authentic Faith? (Revised and Expanded Anniversary Edition) by John MacArthur. Zondervan. 385 pages. 2009
At the beginning of 1978, John MacArthur began preaching through the Gospel of Matthew, verse by verse, a series which eventually lasted seven and a half years, comprising 226 sermons. After completing that series, MacArthur wrote this now modern-day classic to distill his observations about how Jesus proclaimed His own gospel, and to take a hard look at the truths He included in the gospel message. His chief goal was to take an honest and in-depth look at Jesus’ gospel and His evangelistic methods. He knew that the book would be controversial, as he wrote it in part as a response to an already-existing controversy.
He writes that there is no more important issue than the question of what gospel we ought to believe and proclaim. He tells us that he is convinced that our lack of clarity on the most basic matter of all — the gospel — is the greatest detriment to the work of the church in our day, and nothing matters more than what Scripture says about the good news of salvation. He writes that the theme of the gospel according to Jesus is that He came to call sinners to repentance.
And yet, as he immersed himself in the gospel Jesus taught, MacArthur became acutely aware that most of modern evangelism — both witnessing and preaching — falls far short of what Jesus taught. MacArthur writes that the more he examined Jesus’ public ministry and His dealings with inquirers, the more apprehensive he became about the methods and content of contemporary evangelism, indicating that on a disturbing number of fronts, the message being proclaimed today is not the gospel according to Jesus. He writes that the gospel in vogue today holds forth a false hope to sinners. It promises them that they can have eternal life yet continue to live in rebellion against God. It encourages people to claim Jesus as Savior, and defer until later the commitment to obey Him as Lord. He tells us that the “no-lordship message” is that you can have Jesus as Savior and Friend here and now and decide later whether you really want to submit to His authority or not, adding that it is hard to imagine a more disastrous twisting of what it means to be a Christian.
He tells us that what is needed is a complete reexamination of the gospel, indicating that we must go back to the basis for all New Testament teaching about salvation — the gospel proclaimed by Jesus. In this book, he looks at the biblical accounts of Jesus’ major evangelistic encounters and His teaching on the way of salvation.
This outstanding book has stood the test of time and is continuing to be widely read today. It concludes with three appendices (The Gospel According to the Apostles, The Gospel According to Historic Christianity and Answers to Common Questions).
Below are 20 of my favorite quotes from the book:
- Salvation is by God’s sovereign grace and grace alone. Nothing a lost, degenerate, spiritually dead sinner can do will in any way contribute to salvation.
- True salvation produces a heart that voluntarily responds to the ever-awakening reality of Christ’s lordship.
- The belief that someone could be a true Christian while that person’s whole lifestyle, value system, speech, and attitude are marked by a stubborn refusal to surrender to Christ as Lord is a notion that shouldn’t even need to be refuted.
- You cannot remove the lordship of Christ from the gospel message without undermining faith at its core.
- The gospel according to Jesus calls sinners to give up their independence, deny themselves, submit to an alien will, and abandon all rights in order to be owned and controlled by the Lord.
- The gospel Jesus proclaimed was a call to discipleship, a call to follow Him in submissive obedience, not just a plea to make a decision or pray a prayer.
- Genuine assurance comes from seeing the Holy Spirit’s transforming work in one’s life, not from clinging to the memory of some experience.
- The test of true faith is this: Does it produce obedience? If not, it is not saving faith. Disobedience is unbelief. Real faith obeys.
- One of the most malignant by-products of the debacle in contemporary evangelism is a gospel that fails to confront individuals with the reality of their sin.
- The truth of the gospel according to Jesus is that the only ones who are eligible for salvation are those who realize they are sinners and are willing to repent.
- Salvation always results because God first pursues sinners, not because sinners first seek God.
- Salvation is only for those who are willing to give Christ first place in their lives.
- You cannot preach a gospel of grace to someone who has not heard that God requires obedience and punishes disobedience.
- Humble repentance is the only acceptable response to the gospel according to Jesus.
- Genuine saving faith changes behavior, transforms thinking, and puts within a person a new heart. Contemporary Christianity often accepts a shallow repentance that bears no fruit.
- True believers will persevere. Professing Christians who turn against the Lord only prove that they were never truly saved.
- The mark of a true disciple is not that he never sins, but rather that when he does sin, he inevitably returns to the Lord to receive cleansing and forgiveness.
- The gospel invitation is not an entreaty for sinners to allow the Savior into their lives. It is both an appeal and a command for them to repent and follow Him.
- The great miracle of redemption is not that we accept Christ, but that He accepts us.
- Conversion is not simply a sinner’s decision for Christ; it is first the sovereign work of God in transforming the individual.
Here’s 30 more great quotes:
- Salvation occurs when a heart is humbled by a sovereign God who reveals His truth. In desperation the soul turns from sin and embraces Christ.
- Be on guard against conversions that are all smiles and cheers with no sense of repentance or humility. That is the mark of a superficial heart.
- Christians are not supposed to live like unsaved people.
- He never held forth the hope of salvation to anyone who refused to submit to His sovereign lordship.
- To the unregenerate mind, the thought of yielding everything to Christ is odious. But a believing heart surrenders to the Master with great joy.
- No one can rightfully lay claim to Him as Savior while refusing to own Him as Lord.
- No one who comes to Christ is either preferred or slighted because of past experience. The same eternal life is offered to all.
- Saving faith is an exchange of all that we are for all that Christ is.
- Some people serve Christ their whole lives. Others squander their lives, then turn to the Lord on their deathbeds. Either way, eternal life is the same.
- Repentance is not a one-time act. The repentance that takes place at conversion begins a progressive, lifelong process of confession.
- If repentance is genuine, we can expect it to produce observable results. There must be a sincere change in one’s lifestyle.
- No message that eliminates repentance can properly be called the gospel, for sinners cannot come to Jesus Christ apart from a radical change of heart, mind, and will.
- God draws the sinner to Christ and gives the ability to believe. Without that divinely generated faith, one cannot understand and approach the Savior.
- True faith is manifest only in obedience.
- God graciously saved people by reckoning His righteousness to them because of their faith. No one has ever been saved through the merit system — salvation has been available only by grace through faith ever since our first parents fell.
- Justification may be defined as an act of God whereby He imputes to a believing sinner the full and perfect righteousness of Christ, forgiving the sinner of all unrighteousness, declaring him or her perfectly righteous in God’s sight, thus delivering the believer from all condemnation.
- Justification is an instantaneous change of one’s standing before God, not a gradual transformation that takes place within the one who is justified.
- The cornerstone of justification is the reckoning of righteousness to the believer’s account. This is the truth that sets Christian doctrine apart from every form of false religion. We call it “imputed righteousness.” Apart from it, salvation is utterly impossible.
- The salvation He promised brings not only justification, but also sanctification, union with Him, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and an eternity of blessing. It is not merely a one-time legal transaction.
- What to do with Jesus Christ is a choice each person must make, but it is not just a momentary decision. It is a once-for-all verdict with ongoing implications and eternal consequences — the ultimate decision.
- All this world’s religions are based on human achievement. Biblical Christianity alone recognizes divine accomplishment — the work of Christ on humankind’s behalf — as the sole basis of salvation.
- The gate admits only one at a time, for salvation is intensely personal. It is not enough to be born in a Christian family or to ride the coattails of a believing spouse. Believing is an individual act.
- The kingdom is not for people who want Jesus without any change in their lives. It is only for those who seek it with all their hearts.
- Following Christ can cost your very life — it certainly costs your life in a spiritual sense. The fainthearted and compromisers need not apply.
- Many who think they are saved but live unholy lives will be shocked to discover in the final judgment that heaven is not their destiny.
- It has become quite popular to teach professing Christians that they can enjoy assurance of salvation no matter what their lives are like. That teaching is nothing but practical antinomianism. It encourages people living in hypocrisy, disobedience, and sin by offering them a false assurance. It discourages self-examination. And that clearly violates Scripture.
- If your life does not reveal growth in grace and righteousness and holiness, you need to examine the reality of your faith — even if you believe you have done great things in the name of Christ.
- The heart of real discipleship is a commitment to be like Jesus Christ. That means both acting as He did and being willing to accept the same treatment.
- When confronted with a decision between serving self and serving the Lord, the true disciple is the one who chooses to serve the Lord, even at great personal expense.
- When we come to Jesus for salvation, we come to the One who is Lord over all. Any message that omits this truth cannot be called the gospel. Any message that presents a savior who is less than Lord of all cannot claim to be the gospel according to Jesus.
Journey to the Cross: A 40-Day Lenten Devotional by Paul Tripp. Crossway. 184 pages. 2021
I’ve enjoyed several of Paul Tripp’s devotionals over the past few years, my favorite being his New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional. His latest devotional gives us 40 readings, some in poetry form, leading up to Easter. Each reading begins a short statement, which may have originally been one of the author’s tweets. He suggests using this devotional as your stimulus and guide as you stop, consider, mourn, confess, pray, and give your heart to thanksgiving.
Through these readings, and the “Reflection Questions” included at the end of each selection, we follow Jesus on his journey to the cross. The author writes that the horrible, public sacrifice of Jesus should ignite not only our celebration, but also our mourning.
This is a devotional of celebration and self-examination that my wife and I enjoyed reading and discussing during this season of Lent.
Below are 25 helpful quotes from the book:
- The cross preaches that sin is our problem and that rescuing, forgiving, transforming, and delivering grace is the only medicine that will provide the cure we all need.
- The cross teaches us that God doesn’t look at sinners with disdain or disgust, but with generous and tender love.
- The cross teaches us that we do not have to clean ourselves up to come to God; we only need to come in humble confession.
- The cross allows unholy people to look in the face of a holy God and have hope.
- The cross teaches us that God offers us the one thing that no other person or thing can. He offers us the grace of forgiveness.
- The empty tomb stands as an eternal promise to you that God will always finish what he has begun in you and for you.
- The empty tomb is a promise that God will never leave his redemptive work half done.
- Anyone who argues against his own need of grace is in grave spiritual danger.
- Humble, honest, specific, heart-felt confession is the doorway to peace within yourself, peace with God, peace with your neighbor, and a life of ongoing growth and fruitfulness.
- Lent is all about pointing the finger in the right direction. It is about humble self-examination, honest confession, and grief over sin that causes you to seek and celebrate the grace Jesus was willing to suffer and die for.
- Every moment in the life of Christ was necessary. Every aspect of his suffering, death, and resurrection was necessary. It was all essential, because there was no other way to reverse the damage that sin had done or to rescue those who were held in its death grip.
- We should forever celebrate the cross of Jesus Christ as the only possible means of forgiveness. That celebration should mark our lives now and for the rest of eternity.
- Do you find comfort attractive and sacrifice hard? Perhaps your first sacrifice this Lenten season should be a sacrifice of confession, admitting your struggle to let go of the world in order to hold more tightly to your Lord.
- No sacrifice is more pleasing to your Lord than the sacrifice of words in the form of humble, honest, heartfelt confession.
- Come to him this season and place your pride on his altar, confessing your wandering heart and acknowledging once again that you are a person in need of mercy, and the mercy you need is found only in him.
- He never promises what he cannot deliver, and he is able to do in your heart what nothing else or no one else can do.
- He will never despise one who comes to him with a truly broken and contrite heart.
- Gratitude is a powerful weapon against complaint. It is impossible to give thanks and complain at the same time.
- Lent is not about what you will give of yourself to God, but about what he, in grace, has so bountifully given to you.
- The cross of Jesus Christ is the result of God’s dissatisfaction with the condition of the world that he made and of the people that he placed in it.
- There is no defeat in the cross. Only triumph is to be found there.
- Everything in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, even those things that appeared to be defeats, were victories. Each was a victory because each was done in fulfillment of God’s plan.
- Our hope is found in the fact that Jesus came to be the final Passover Lamb, not just a great teacher and a miracle healer.
- The empty tomb of Jesus is your guarantee of help here and now and of help to come.
- The journey of Jesus to the cross didn’t end with the cross but with the victory of the empty tomb, and that’s a very good thing.
The Characters of Easter: The Villains, Heroes, Cowards, and Crooks Who Witnessed History’s Biggest Miracle by Daniel Darling. Moody Publishers. 208 pages. 2021
Daniel Darling follows up his popular The Characters of Christmas book (see my review of that book here), with a similar book about the characters of Easter. The book is easy to read and engaging, but don’t mistake that for this being a simple book that you will not learn from. Darling offers much information about the history of the period and the background of the characters that you might not have previously been aware of. Like the previous book, I read and discussed this one with a group of men I’ve been meeting with to read and discuss books for many years now. Also like the previous book, this book includes study questions at the end of each chapter, along with suggested hymns and songs related to the chapter that are helpful whether you are reading the book individually or with a group.
The author tells us that Jesus took upon Himself your sins so you could enjoy intimacy with your Father, and that Easter means those who are in Christ will be made alive, spiritually and physically. By looking at unlikely disciples, unprepared civil authorities, and unscrupulous religious leaders in this book, we can learn more about the setting in which Jesus lived and died, and we will gain a great love for God’s long and sure plan of salvation and rescue.
I highly recommend this book to you. Below, I’ve provided two takeaways from each of the chapters of the book:
The Failure: Peter
- Peter may have abandoned Jesus in Jesus’ hour of need, but Jesus would not abandon Peter in his hour of need.
- Christ is still seeking out fishers of men, the kind of leaders who walk with a limp. Here we see God’s unmatched, one-way love. We fail Him, but He doesn’t fail us. We forget Him, but He doesn’t forget us. We pursue other loves, but He is faithful.
The Beloved: John
- Today we like to be near Jesus, to take notes as He teaches and marvel at His miracles, but we’d rather He leave us with our nets and our safe way of life. We like a Jesus who forms Himself around our comforts. But following Him is costly.
- I think it was in the Upper Room where John began to shed his worldly ambitions. A Son of Thunder may have entered that rented space, but a new Apostle emerged.
The Betrayer: Judas
- And this, I’m afraid, is the situation for many who celebrate Easter this and every year. A familiarity with the language, dressing up for the occasion, even brought to tears by Jesus’ death and resurrection. But never able to call Jesus “Lord.”
- This Easter, it’s helpful for us to remember that we are like Judas in that we too have betrayed Jesus, time and time again. We’ve sold Him out for lesser idols. But we don’t have to suffer Judas’s fate. If we confess our sins, He’s faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
The Rogue: Barabbas
- If we cringe at this guilty man going free, we have to cringe at ourselves, who were just as guilty before God. The Bible tells us that every single member of the human race is Barabbas.
- Jesus died the death Barabbas should have died, paid the penalty for sin we should have paid but could not bear, and in exchange offers us freedom—freedom from sin and reconciliation with the Creator who made us.
The Powerless: Pilate
- Deep in Pilate’s heart and in every heart is a longing to understand the meaning of life, to know and be known by the One who declares Himself the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).
- This Easter, as you contemplate the tragic and mysterious life of Pilate, ask yourself these questions: Will you humble yourself before the King of kings? Will you look up at this bloodied Galilean and see your Savior? Will you look in on this empty tomb and understand that God is renewing and restoring all things?
The Doubter: Thomas
- “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) This is the meaning of Easter. There is not a path or a principle. There is only a Person. Jesus is the way. Jesus is the truth. Jesus is the life. He didn’t merely point to the truth.
- Jesus is beckoning doubters to come and see, to look at the facts of His resurrection and His proof of His deity, but more importantly to answer His summons to hope and joy and forgiveness and grace.
The Religious: The Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees
- The scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees all opposed Jesus, but for different reasons.
- In a sense, we all put Jesus on the cross, because each of us, across every ethnic group and social class, stands condemned before a holy God. Nobody has clean hands at Easter.
The Witnesses: The Women at the Tomb
- Jesus takes the desperate, the afflicted, the enslaved, and transforms them into witnesses of His glory.
- So even though today, by modern standards of scholarship, the witness of these many women in seeing Jesus dying on the cross, buried, and then risen is a hard-to-refute piece of evidence for the reliability of the gospels and the historicity of the resurrection, the fact that women’s testimony was not received in the first century is also another piece of evidence.
The Secret Disciples: Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea
- We can’t imagine the wrestling in their souls as they straddled their identity as proud Pharisees and the tug of the Spirit on their heart as they investigated the claims of Jesus.
- The inclusion of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea in the Easter story shows us how God works in mysterious ways to accomplish His purposes in the world and the gospel’s power to work in the most surprising places.
The Executioners: Who Were the Romans?
- The gospel, Jesus is telling the people of Israel, is not just for Israel, but for the whole world. What’s more, we will be surprised who we see around the table in the kingdom of God.
- God finds faith where we least expect it. Those who seem so far from God—those we have been trained to hate and despise—may have more faith than those of us who think we are close to God.
My Heart Cries Out: Gospel Meditations for Everyday Life by Paul Tripp. Crossway. 256 pages. 2019
After reading a few other devotional books by Paul Tripp (New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional, Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional, and A Shelter in the Time of Storm: Meditations on God and Trouble), I looked forward to reading his latest book of devotional readings. This book includes 120 meditations written in the form of poetry, accompanied by beautiful photography by Tim Kellner. For the book, Kellner traveled to ten countries and five continents. The photography selections are meant to reflect the content and themes contained within the poetry. After each meditation, there is a related Bible verse, questions and a Bible passage for further study and encouragement on the subject matter of the meditation.
The author tells us that the meditations are notes from his journey through the struggle of God’s amazing grace. They are his meditations on the intersection between God’s ever-present grace and his ever-present battle to live out of the resources of that grace while he walks his way through this sadly broken and dysfunctional world. He tells us that in each of our lives grace is both a glory and a struggle. These are his honest meditations on that struggle. They are his spontaneous responses to his journey through glory and struggle.
Below are ten of my favorite passages from the book, which my wife and I used for our daily devotional reading:
- It’s first about you— your righteousness, your wisdom, your power, your authority, your grace—and how you have unleashed all of them for my forgiveness, my rescue, my redemption. My life is no longer about me; it is first and foremost about you.
- Hard moments in your hands become hard moments of amazing grace.
- You turn hardship into rescue. You turn suffering into redemption.
- Out of trials you bring transformation. Out of weakness you grow strength. Out of death you birth life. Out of darkness you bring light.
- You are my God, my Savior, my hope, my life, my forgiveness, my wisdom, my strength, my righteousness, my peace, my Father, my brother, and my friend. Because you are, I am what I am.
- When I am in trouble, in boundless love you trouble me with your grace until I confess my trouble and run once again to you for mercy.
- All that I am, wherever I am, whatever the time, will be used in service of you. This is my calling; this is your will.
- Please restore the eyes of my heart. Graciously make the days that I have left to be days of beauty because my heart is filled with visions of you.
- It is only when I abandon my righteousness, that I will rest in your righteousness.
- Moved by your glory, propelled by your love, sent by your grace, driven to redeem, you came!
Made for His Pleasure: Ten Benchmarks of a Vital Faith by Alistair Begg. Moody Publishers. 192 pages 2018
This is a revised and updated edition of the author’s 1996 book, which I read and enjoyed when it was originally published. In this book he looks at the subject of pleasing God in light of putting God first, spiritual fitness, prayer, sacrifice, relationships, vocation, suffering, the heedful life, intellectualism and materialism, humility, and evangelism. He writes that the list is not exhaustive, but selective, and represents something of his own spiritual pilgrimage. He tells us that we could think of the chapters of the book as signposts for the journey of life.
The author writes that we want to learn to be able to say with Paul, “We make it our goal to please him” (2 Cor. 5:9). All of our desires, decisions, aspirations, and affections should be governed by our prior determination to please God.
I highlighted a number of passages as I read this wonderful book, more in some chapters than in others, which you might expect. Below are a few of those passages I would like to share with you:
Spiritual Fitness in a Flabby Generation
- Many things that are perfectly fine in and of themselves may hold us back from achieving spiritual fitness. We must be prepared to deal regularly with these hindrances.
- One of the key reasons for the flabbiness of our spiritual lives is that a generation of Christians is growing up with little awareness of the necessity of dealing with sin.
- We must learn where our personal weaknesses lie—and once they are identified, we must be ruthless in dealing with them.
- As a result of grace, we have been saved from sin’s penalty; one day we will be saved from sin’s presence; in the meantime, we are being saved from sin’s power.
Prayer That Is Larger Than Ourselves
- Why is it that we understand and accept the concept of consistency in matters of physical discipline (witness the runner or the aerobic exerciser who declares, “I never miss”), and yet balk at it when we hear it applied to establishing holy habits? It is because we have succumbed to the unbiblical notion that to do things out of a sense of duty is less than best.
- The simple acronym “ACTS” may prove to be as helpful as any. “A” stands for adoration, “C” for confession, “T” for thanksgiving, and “S” for supplication. We may choose to order our personal prayers around that.
Sacrifice: Wholehearted Commitment to God’s Kingdom
- It is both dangerous and wrong to substitute personal preference for biblical principle, to place pleasing self above pleasing God.
- Not everyone is called to foreign missions, but all are called to sacrifice. What else does it mean for Jesus to say, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23)?
- For the church to impact our generation for Christ, we need to have a sense of mission in the routine activities of our lives. In parking cars, writing term papers, pumping gas, folding laundry, selling bonds, playing sports—in whatever we are doing—we are to be living sacrifices.
- All of life can be a sacrifice to God: the ways in which we listen in class, treat our colleagues at work, respect our employers, and serve our spouses.
Relationships: A Marriage That Pleases God
- Learning to trust God and wait upon the Lord is rarely easy, but it is always in our best interest, and it is pleasing to God.
- There is probably no more practical area of life that reveals the challenges of pleasing God than relationships. They are where we learn to say “no” to pleasing ourselves and “yes” to pleasing others and pleasing God first.
Vocation: Finding the Ideal Place to Serve God
- We need to view our daily round and common task as the realm in which we fulfill God’s call upon our lives and not rush to be done with these secular pursuits so that we might turn to spiritual activities.
Suffering: Pleasing God When the Wheels Fall Off
- The truth is that more spiritual progress is made through failure and tears than success and laughter.
- We should neither court suffering nor complain about it. Instead, we should see it as one of the means God chooses to employ to make us increasingly useful to the Master.
- It would be wrong to suggest that we know God’s presence in suffering exclusively, but we do know it in suffering especially.
The Narrow Way: Never Did a Heedless Person Lead a Holy Life
- There is never a time (until heaven) when we are exempt from temptation. Recognizing this ought to help us prepare for the battle.
- How are we to deal with temptation so as to avoid the failure of David and follow Joseph’s example? Three words provide a useful answer: immediately, ruthlessly and consistently.
Intellectualism and Materialism: Chasing After the Wind
- Whenever we place our trust in anyone or anything other than God, we sin.
Putting on the Garment of Humility
- If we instill the characteristics of work, courage, and perseverance in our children but do not instill in them the grace of humility, they will be marked by the spirit of the Pharisee: virtuous in many ways but too proud to see their need for God.
- It is easy for us to talk about what we have accomplished rather than what God in His goodness has chosen to bless.
- Many of us, though, neglect the Scriptures on a daily basis. We have the best of intentions on a Sunday, but our follow-through is lacking. It is important that we develop a system of Bible study that takes us through the whole of Scripture and keeps us faithful in our reading.
Evangelism: The Necessity of Bringing Others to Christ
- If I want to be approved at the last, nothing can take the place of my making an honest, sincere, and prayerful effort to bring others to the Savior.
- To be a witness for Christ is both a duty and a privilege.
- If evangelism is not a passion for the pastor, it most likely will not be a priority for the people.
Listen to this interview with Alistair Begg about the book.
Good News: The Gospel of Jesus Christ by John MacArthur. Reformation Trust Publishing. 143 pages. 2018
In this book about Jesus Christ and the Gospel, from one of our most respected pastors and authors, John MacArthur tells us that a right understanding of Jesus Christ is essential to understanding many other vital truths, particularly the gospel and salvation. He tells us that there is no good news apart from Christ, and how we answer the question “Who is Jesus?” has significant and ultimately permanent consequences. The right answer alone can lead to salvation.
The author addresses that there are even those who identify themselves as evangelicals that teach that there is more than one way to get to Heaven. He tells us that today the word evangelical is so ambiguous that it doesn’t really mean anything. A high percentage (between 45 and 65 percent of so-called evangelical Christians), are convinced that Jesus is not the only way to heaven. He writes that a “radically abridged and ambiguous view” of the gospel has captivated the church today. But there is no “back door” to heaven. If we don’t know the true God and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, we will suffer the fury of God. Jesus made it clear to people that they needed to repent and believe.
In this short book comprised of six chapters that read like they could have originally been delivered as sermons, he addresses such topics as Jesus’ glory and holiness (from John’s vision in the first chapter of Revelation), sin being an offense to God, the forgiveness of sins, evangelism, justification and sanctification, headship, and the authority of Christ.
He writes that 2 Corinthians 5:21 sums up the entire gospel and God’s ministry of reconciliation. He tells us that God treated Christ on the cross as if He had lived our life, so that He could treat us as if we had lived His life. That’s the beautiful glory of the gospel.
He writes about the difference between justification and sanctification. He tells us “Justification is instantaneous, while sanctification is a process that will continue throughout the life of the believer. Justification is a formal decree from God that our guilt has been wiped away and we’ve been declared righteous in Christ. Sanctification is the process of actually growing in righteousness. It’s the living out of the transformation that God has already worked in us.”
The author, long one of my favorites, is known for his defense of the Gospel and the Scriptures. This book is clearly written and easy to understand. It would be a good one to read and discuss with new believers.
A Company of Heroes: Portraits from the Gospel’s Global Advance by Tim Keesee. Crossway. 284 pages. 2019
The author is the founder and executive director of Frontline Missions International. I’ve enjoyed and appreciated his excellent ten-part video series Dispatches from the Front. Much of this book has the feel of those videos as he travels around the world to visit believers. These believers are heroes to him, and they should be to us as well. They trusted him to tell their stories despite the risks they face as they live on mission in hard places. He has shared jungle paths, desert roads, and city streets on five continents with these believers. They are heroes for the ways in which they magnify the grace and power of the risen Christ. They are foot soldiers in the long campaign as Christ builds his church across the centuries and among all peoples. The author writes that every time he goes to another corner of the world and sees the church growing and the gospel changing lives, his view of God gets bigger.
The author also introduces us to some of his heroes from the past. Some of those heroes are his father and mother, Pastor Frank Washburn, Amy Carmichael and William Carey. He writes that whether well-known or unknown, past or present, these stories are important reminders that the gospel does not only reach across the globe, but it also spans generations and centuries. The ones he writes about in this book are those whose lives and impact he’s had the opportunity to trace during his travels. The stories that we hear about come from the author’s journals of his travels to places such as Jerusalem, China, Mongolia, Ethiopia, Turkey, Salt Lake City, Utah, Oxford, England, Philippines, Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos.
The people he writes about are ordinary men and women who have an extraordinary Savior. Their stories of courage and perseverance are both heartbreaking and encouraging. I highly recommend this book for all believers.
Enjoy Your Prayer Life by Michael Reeves. 10Publishing. 48 pages. 2014
In this short, but helpful book, the author tells us that sadly, most of us are not good at prayer, and that even church leaders are not communing with God much.
He begins by writing that we need to think about what exactly prayer is. John Calvin called prayer the chief exercise of faith. Prayer is the primary way true faith expresses itself. We are all sinners, but the solution, what will give us the true life of real communion with God, is the gospel of Christ that awakens faith.
The author tells us that Jesus was the first pray-er. The salvation he brings is a sharing of his own communion with his Father. The first thing Jesus would have pray-ers know is the name Father. That is the first and basic lesson in prayer. To address God as Father and mean it is to understand the gospel well.
The author tells us that praying is enjoying – and pleading for – the friendship and friendly assistance of God. To know you are a beloved child of God protects you from thinking of prayer as a ladder to God or an exercise by which you work your way into his favor. Prayer doesn’t make us more accepted. Instead, prayer is growing in the appreciation of what we have been given.
If prayer is communion with God, then it can take many forms. I found it helpful that the author tells us that we don’t need to try to ‘fit’ God into each day. We shouldn’t see our prayer life as something different from the rest of life. When we default to thinking of prayer as an abstract activity, a ‘thing to do’, the tendency is to focus on the prayer as an activity – which makes it boring.
The author states that being a Christian is first and foremost all about receiving, asking and depending. Prayer is enjoying the care of a powerful Father, the antithesis of self-dependence.
In writing about the role of the Holy Spirit in prayer, the author tells us that the Spirit is the wind in the sails of our prayer as he catches us up into the Son’s love for the Father. The Spirit knows that we’re weak, that we struggle to pray and that we often don’t know what to pray – and his desire is to help us. The Spirit doesn’t just bring us in Christ to the Father – he brings us together to him as the Father’s family. Therefore, we also pray together with Christ as brothers and sisters before our Father. Communal prayer is the Christian life in a nutshell – the family of the Father coming together to him to share his concerns. Prayer for each other is sharing our Father’s compassion. Prayer with each other is being family, and it fosters the unity our God loves.
So, prayer is not an abstract activity. Rather, it is the chief exercise of faith. It is exercising belief that the Almighty is my willing and kind Father, and that, accepting me in the Son, he wants to hear us and bless us.
Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Difference, edited by Tim Keller and John Inazu. Thomas Nelson. 237 pages. 2020
Books in which a different author writes each chapter can be tricky. You might connect with one author and not another, and that’s just how I found this book. I found myself fully engaged with some chapters, while others were frankly a chore to get through.
I was attracted to the book by the fact that one of the editors, who also wrote a chapter, was Tim Keller, one of my favorite authors, and Lecrae, one of my favorite musical artists, also wrote one of the chapters. Among the contributors, I was also familiar with Sara Groves through her music, and Trillia Newbell through her writing and Tish Harrison Warren, through a book of hers my wife had recently read. The subject of the book caught my attention as we live in a very divided culture, including among those who identify as Christians.
In the “Introduction”, the editors tell us that the book’s central question is how Christians can engage with those around us, while both respecting people whose beliefs differ from our own and maintaining our gospel confidence. The idea for this book grew out of correspondence the editors have had with each other over the past few years. Both of them were exploring how people find common ground across deep and often painful differences. They also wanted to explore how Christians might embody humility, patience, and tolerance, the civic practices that Inazu identified his book Confident Pluralism.
The editors tell us that few issues have generated more controversy or required more understanding than those related to race, an issue that comes up often throughout the book. They believe that few issues of social division today are more significant for the church and for society.
They tell us that the chapters in this book depict various parts of the body of Christ, and remind us that God engages with us by assuming each of these roles.
The book is organized as follows:
Part One: Framing Our Engagement explores the roles through which we think about our engagement with others.
Part Two: Communicating Our Engagement looks at how we speak when we engage our neighbors in an increasingly pluralistic society.
Part Three: Embodying Our Engagement turns to how we embody our engagement with others.
The editors write that we live in a culture that lacks a shared understanding of the common good. In the “Conclusion”, the editors list four practices that provide the beginning of an answer to James Davison Hunter’s call for “faithful presence”:
- Christians should not overidentify with any particular political party or platform.
- Christians should approach the community around them through a posture of love and service.
- Christians should recognize that the gospel subverts rival stories and accounts of reality.
- Christians should reach out to others with humility, patience, and tolerance.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:
- Christians can demonstrate tolerance for others because our love of neighbor flows from our love of God, and our love of God is grounded in the truth of the gospel. Tim Keller and John Inazu
- The Christian calling is to be shaped and reshaped into people whose every thought and action is characterized by faith, hope, and love—and who then speak and act in the world with humility, patience, and tolerance. Tim Keller and John Inazu
- You can only become yourself if you do what you were created to do—to serve and obey God unconditionally, to love and rejoice in him above all other things. There could not be a more countercultural idea. Tim Keller
- We can only love and benefit our culture if we are different from it, if we maintain a Christian identity rather than adopt a secular one. Tim Keller
- Christians should not fail to affirm the good, true, and beautiful wherever we see it, even if it emerges from sources with whom we would otherwise disagree. Tom Lin
- Part of the Christian writer’s call to love in our era is to upset the easy categories of Left and Right, good guys and bad guys, black hats and white hats—the simplistic and self-satisfied labels that bog down our contemporary conversations. Tish Harrison Warren
- Many of us fight to find purpose and greatness outside of God, but it is only through him that we find it. Lecrae
- Neither we nor our heroes are as flawless as we would like to think. Nor are the villains we deplore always that much different from us, were we faced with their same life circumstances. Lecrae
- Tolerance means a willingness to distinguish between people and their ideas. John Inazu
- For most of us, finding common ground will mean partnering with people, institutions, and movements that diverge in important respects from our core convictions. John Inazu
- Our dignity as humans does not come from how hard we work, or where we are from, or what we produce, or how capable we are of any activity. It comes, rather, from the fact that as God’s good creatures, we are loved and known by God. Warren Kinghorn
Epic: An Around-the-World Journey through Christian History by Tim Challies. Zondervan. 175 pages. 2020
In this book, Tim Challies shows us a unique way to look at Christian history. Rather than just visiting historical sites, over the course of a year, he chose to focus on objects, key artifacts that had been preserved. His hope in approaching the project in this manner was that by listening to the small stories told by these remnants of Christian history he would begin to understand the larger story and its epic unfolding. In other words, he wanted to “experience” the history of Christianity.
As he planned for the project, which was generously funded for him, he had a few restrictions. First, he wanted to focus on objects rather than locations, buildings, or memorials as we often do when we go to historical sites. Second, he wanted to focus on objects that are available to the general public. In the book, you will read that he found exactly the kind of objects he had wanted to see. He discovered links to the past, historical artifacts he could see and study and sometimes even touch and hold, each telling him (and the reader), a different chapter of a much greater story.
His original vision was to create only a book, but in the early stages he met filmmaker Stephen McCaskell, who caught the vision for the project and decided to travel with him to film a documentary, which you can watch on Amazon Prime. My wife and I have watched a few of the episodes in which he travels to places that we have also travelled to. In addition, you can watch the episode on India free by going here. Challies tells us that the book focuses on what he found, and the documentary focuses on how he found it.
The book is comprised of relatively short chapters about the artifact that Challies was searching for. In each chapter, he gives the historical context for the artifact. I enjoyed the entire book, reading about items that I wasn’t familiar with, those that I was, and also those that I had actually visited and seen myself (Martyr’s Monument in Oxford, St. Giles Church in Edinburgh, Calvin’s chair in St. Pierre Cathedral in Geneva, and the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.). I read with interest about the Book of Kells, Jan Hus’s cell door, the Gutenberg Bible, an indulgence box, Tyndale’s New Testament, the Whitefield Rock, Charles Wesley’s organ, Nate Saint’s plane, Billy Graham’s travelling pulpit, and much more.
This is a very interesting and informative book that I recommend, especially if you are interested in church history.
The Ten Commandments of Progressive Christianity by Michael Kruger. Cruciform Press. 58 pages. 2020
The author, president and professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, writes of a daily devotional from Richard Rohr that listed ten principles he thinks modern Christianity needs to embody. Those ten principles were drawn from Philip Gulley’s book, If the Church Were Christian: Rediscovering the Values of Jesus. In his devotional series titled “Returning to Essentials”, Rohr sets forth the ten principles as a kind of confessional statement of modern liberalism. Kruger tells us that they are in effect, a “Ten Commandments” for progressive Christianity.
Kruger tells us that each of these commandments is only partially true. And that is what makes the list, and progressive Christianity as a whole, so challenging. The author tells us it is a master class in half-truths that sound appealing on the surface until you dig down deeper and really explore their foundations and implications.
In this short book, he diagnoses and critiques each of the “commandments”, offering a biblical and theological response to each, dipping occasionally into J. Gresham Machen’s classic volume Christianity and Liberalism, written in 1923. In that book, Machen argued that the liberal understanding of Christianity was, in fact, not just a variant version of the faith, nor did it represent simply a different denominational perspective, but was an entirely different religion. He was saying that liberal Christianity is not Christianity.
The ten commandments of Progressive Christianity are:
- Jesus Is a Model for Living More Than an Object for Worship
- Affirming People’s Potential Is More Important Than Reminding Them of Their Brokenness
- The Work of Reconciliation Should Be Valued over Making Judgments
- Gracious Behavior Is More Important Than Right Belief
- Inviting Questions Is More Valuable Than Supplying Answers
- Encouraging the Personal Search Is More Important Than Group Uniformity
- Meeting Actual Needs Is More Important Than Maintaining Institutions
- Peacemaking Is More Important Than Power
- We Should Care More about Love and Less about Sex
- Life in This World Is More Important Than the Afterlife
I found this to be a very interesting book, not being familiar with either Rohr or Gulley before reading this book. Here are some of my takeaways from the book:
- By removing the person of Jesus from the equation as an object of worship, it essentially makes Christianity a religion of moralism. What matters most, we are told, is not doctrine or theology, but behavior. Deeds over creeds.
- Jesus’ moral teaching only works when we retain his identity as Lord. The two should never and can never be split apart.
- We must affirm both our deep depravity and the amazing potential we have as God’s image-bearers. The two belong together.
- Teaching people good theology is a vital, essential way of caring for them.
- In the end, it’s clear that right behavior is not more important than right theology. Both are important.
- Progressives are quick to condemn all sorts of behavior they see in the world around them, while insisting that Bible-believing Christians are wrong when they do so.
- Christianity is not about mankind’s never-ending “journey” to God, but about God’s completed journey to us, to save us from our sins.
- Much of the problem with Gulley’s account of the church is that he views it as having a purely horizontal purpose—that is, how humans relate to humans. Entirely missing from Gulley’s account is any vertical purpose for the church (how humans relate to God). The biblical view of the church does not choose between the vertical and horizontal dimensions. It affirms both.
- Gulley sometimes has the right diagnosis but the wrong (or woefully incomplete) cure.
- Progressive Christianity is decidedly moralistic: what matters is not what you believe, but how you behave. This approach is absent when it comes to issues regarding sex. When sex is in view, suddenly progressives are for moral freedom and moral choice.
- The hallmark of progressive Christianity is a deep commitment to being “good” and doing “good” things.
- Gulley’s final commandment masterfully encapsulates three hallmarks of progressive Christianity. It focuses on man instead of God, downplays doctrine for morality, and claims uncertainty while all the while being very, very certain of itself.
Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortlund. Crossway. 224 pages. 2020
Every once in a while, a book comes along that just blows you away. Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund is one of those books. This was a book that I was influenced to read because so many people I respect were writing good things about it and recommending it. As a result, my wife and I read and discussed the book, which is comprised of relatively short chapters.
Ortlund tells us that the book is written for the discouraged, the frustrated, the weary, the disenchanted, the cynical, the empty. It is written, in other words, for normal Christians. In short, it is for sinners and sufferers.
In the book, the author simply asks what the Bible says about the heart of Christ, and considers the glory of his heart for our own up-and-down lives. The author takes either a Bible passage or a teaching from the Puritans (especially Thomas Goodwin), and considers what is being said about the heart of God and of Christ. He doesn’t focus centrally on what Christ has done, but instead who he is. The two matters are bound up together and indeed interdependent. But they are distinct. Letting Jesus set the terms, the author tells us that his surprising claim is that he is “gentle and lowly in heart.” The point in saying that Jesus is lowly is that he is accessible. He tells us that for all his resplendent glory and dazzling holiness, Jesus’ supreme uniqueness and otherness, no one in human history has ever been more approachable than Jesus Christ.
The message of the book is that we tend to project our natural expectations about who God is onto him instead of fighting to let the Bible surprise us into what God himself says. The book reads almost like a devotional. One way to approach it is to read a chapter a day over your morning coffee. Another is to read and discuss with others.
Here are 20 of my favorite quotes from the book:
- Only as we drink down the kindness of the heart of Christ will we leave in our wake, everywhere we go, the aroma of heaven, and die one day having startled the world with glimpses of a divine kindness too great to be boxed in by what we deserve.
- He doesn’t simply meet us at our place of need; he lives in our place of need. He never tires of sweeping us into his tender embrace. It is his very heart.
- The Jesus given to us in the Gospels is not simply one who loves, but one who is love; merciful affections stream from his innermost heart as rays from the sun.
- The wrath of Christ and the mercy of Christ are not at odds with one another, like a see-saw, one diminishing to the degree that the other is held up. Rather, the two rise and fall together.
- The cumulative testimony of the four Gospels is that when Jesus Christ sees the fallenness of the world all about him, his deepest impulse, his most natural instinct, is to move toward that sin and suffering, not away from it.
- When Jesus, the Clean One, touched an unclean sinner, Christ did not become unclean. The sinner became clean.
- Jesus Christ is closer to you today than he was to the sinners and sufferers he spoke with and touched in his earthly ministry.
- When you come to Christ for mercy and love and help in your anguish and perplexity and sinfulness, you are going with the flow of his own deepest wishes, not against them.
- His is a love that cannot be held back when he sees his people in pain.
- The reason that Jesus is in such close solidarity with us is that the difficult path we are on is not unique to us. He has journeyed on it himself.
- Jesus deals gently and only gently with all sinners who come to him, irrespective of their particular offense and just how heinous it is.
- What elicits tenderness from Jesus is not the severity of the sin but whether the sinner comes to him. Whatever our offense, he deals gently with us.
- Rather than dispensing grace to us from on high, he gets down with us, he puts his arm around us, he deals with us in the way that is just what we need. He deals gently with us.
- Look to Christ. He deals gently with you. It’s the only way he knows how to be.
- Looking inside ourselves, we can anticipate only harshness from heaven. Looking out to Christ, we can anticipate only gentleness.
- It is not what life brings to us but to whom we belong that determines Christ’s heart of love for us.
- Just as we can hardly fathom the divine ferocity awaiting those out of Christ, it is equally true that we can hardly fathom the divine tenderness already resting now on those in Christ.
- The guilt and shame of those in Christ is ever outstripped by his abounding grace.
- His holiness finds evil revolting, more revolting than any of us ever could feel. But it is that very holiness that also draws his heart out to help and relieve and protect and comfort.
- He sides with you against your sin, not against you because of your sin. He hates sin. But he loves you.
The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church by Albert Mohler. Thomas Nelson. 240 pages. 2020
The author, a seminary president and the host of the popular podcast The Briefing, borrows Winston Churchill’s title as he sees a gathering storm that already presents itself as a tremendous challenge to the faithfulness of the Christian church. He writes that it is a gathering storm of the secular age. The most familiar word for the process we are witnessing is secularization. The challenge faced by Christians in the United States today is to see the storm and to understand it, and then to demonstrate the courage to face the storm.
For regular listeners of The Briefing, many of the topics (abortion, family, sexual revolution, religious liberty, etc.) in this important book will be familiar. This is a book I read and discussed with a few friends. Here are my main takeaways from each chapter:
Chapter One: The Gathering Storm Over Western Civilization
- Secular, in terms of contemporary sociological and intellectual conversation, refers to the absence of any binding theistic authority or belief.
- One of the clearer developments in the past two decades has been the inevitable collision between religious liberty—America’s most cherished “first freedom”—and the newly invented sexual liberties. It has become clear that the entire LGBTQ movement represents a clear challenge to anyone who would hold to the historic, biblical position on sexual morality and marriage.
- Historic Christianity is now increasingly either rejected outright or relegated to having no significance in the culture. Many people in the most privileged sectors of our modern societies do not even know a believing Christian. They are no longer even haunted by the remains of a Christian frame of mind. They are truly secular.
- We must, with every fiber of our God-given strength, with full dependence upon the power of the Holy Spirit, with every ounce of conviction we can muster through prayer, with unwavering courage, protest this secular moment.
- The attempt of secularism to usurp the rule of the Son of God amounts to the height of human folly. Nothing will prevail over our God. Nothing can withstand the power of the gospel.
Chapter Two: The Gathering Storm in the Church
- The secular age exerts a subtle but constant influence on churches and Christians. If not careful, churches will look less and less like churches and more and more like the secular world around them.
- Discipleship to Christ makes objective demands on conduct, virtue, and morality. The God revealed in holy Scripture issues commands to his people, and God calls his children to live in obedience to his commands and statutes.
- When churches and denominations surrender to the forces of secularism, they do so because they departed from the “rock,” namely, the lordship of Jesus Christ.
- The obedient church of Jesus Christ cannot just preach a biblical morality; it must live out that morality. Otherwise, our words will ring hollow.
Chapter Three: The Gathering Storm Over Human Life
- The Christian worldview affirms the sanctity of human life at every moment, from fertilization to natural death. Thus, every abortion amounts to the murder of an unborn child.
- American Christians must not only work and argue for the preservation of unborn life, but we must also pray for it.
- The only real answer to the culture of death is the gospel of life.
Chapter Four: The Gathering Storm Over Marriage
- Marriage is about our happiness, our holiness, and our wholeness—but it is supremely about the glory of God. When marriage is entered rightly, when marriage vows are kept with purity, when all the goods of marriage are enjoyed in their proper place, God is glorified.
- Marriage is not greatly respected in our postmodern culture. For many, the covenant of marriage has been discarded in favor of a contract of cohabitation.
- Our culture is so sexually confused that the goods of sex are severed from the vows and obligations of marriage.
- A society that disbelieves in God will eventually disbelieve in marriage.
- A stable and functional culture requires the establishment of stable marriages and the nurturing of families. Without a healthy marriage and family life as foundation, no lasting and healthy community can long survive.
Chapter Five: The Gathering Storm Over the Family
- The secular storm and the sexual revolution aim to normalize its entire transgender ideology.
- Secularism sets out to redefine humanity.
- The secular age will not tolerate worldviews that challenge its comprehensive vision for humanity.
- Faithfulness to Christian teaching now places parents outside the mainstream and could potentially lead to a termination of parental rights.
- Christians need to understand what is at stake. The end of parental rights is the end of the family, and eventually, the end of human civilization as we know it.
Chapter Six: The Gathering Storm Over Gender and Sexuality
- The single greatest impetus of the sexual revolution was the advent of birth control, which began to transform the notion of the “possible” and gave way to an onslaught of consequences no one saw coming.
- The LGBTQ revolution demands not only equality but also the suppression of divergent worldviews, namely, the Christian worldview. Any moral code that denies the new sexual rights must be silenced,
- Sadly, many churches have capitulated to the demands of the sexual revolution. It will take extraordinary conviction to resist their revolution. We are about to find out which churches, denominations, and Christian institutions are capable of this resistance.
- We cannot see Revoice as anything other than a house built upon the sand. Revoice is not the voice of faithful Christianity.
- The sexual revolution—now undermining the very structure of humanity as male and female—represents a direct challenge to what Christians believe and teach and preach.
- Biblical Christianity must speak the truth in love and seek to be good neighbors to all, but we cannot abandon the faith just because we are told that we are now on the wrong side of history.
Chapter Seven: The Gathering Generational Storm
- The coming generations do not see themselves as related in any formal or binding sense with churches, formal beliefs, or religious institutions. These young adults are considerably less religious than their parents, less committed to formal doctrines, and less involved, not only in church life, but even in such activities as volunteering in charity work and social organizations.
- The problems facing the coming generations are massive with enormous cultural, social, political, and theological ramifications.
- Delaying marriage, the deconstruction of the family, and the advent of social media have all had both a liberalizing and secularizing effect on America’s generations.
Chapter Eight: The Gathering Storm and the Engines of Culture
- Our responsibility is to think clearly, carefully, and critically about how our culture is being influenced, and what this means for Christians seeking to live faithfully in a secular age.
- The cultural products we watch and read and listen to are sending moral messages, constantly. Hollywood controls the narrative, and if you can manipulate the narrative, you govern the mentality, worldview, and character of a culture.
- Hollywood utilizes its creative authority to craft compelling narratives in step with the moral revolution—especially the LGBTQ agenda, but increasingly on abortion as well.
- Corporate America’s desire to build its brand has moved many companies to engage in virtue signaling—a show of support through advertisement or company policies that tilts its hat toward the LGBTQ movement. By sending this signal, companies reveal to the larger culture their place on the “right side of history,” and their desire to live as part of the future rather than a now discredited past.
- The monopolistic power of the social media giants is unprecedented in American history. Add to this the fact that Silicon Valley is rather astonishingly one-sided in its politics, and we can see the huge challenge now facing anyone who holds to a contrary worldview.
Chapter Nine: The Gathering Storm Over Religious Liberty
- If they maintain the House, regain the Senate, and secure the presidency, Democrats will have all they need to unleash a full-scale assault against religious liberty by making the Equality Act law.
- We cannot understand the transcendent value of religious liberty without these three essential words: God, truth, and liberty, and in that order. Every one of these words is indispensable.
- These are days that will require courage, conviction, and clarity of vision.
- Religious liberty is being redefined as mere freedom of worship, but it will not long survive if it is reduced to a private sphere with no public voice.
- The very freedom to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake, and thus so is the liberty of every American.
- If we lose religious liberty, all other liberties will be lost, one by one.
Conclusion: Into the Storm
- For Americans, the intensity of this storm picks up with the backdrop of a presidential election. Christians must realize that the more enduring contest is not between rival candidates but between rival worldviews.
- Only the Christian worldview is sufficient to answer the demands of secularization, nor can any other worldview provide the framework for true human flourishing. Silence in this age is not an option—indeed, silence and retreat are tantamount to failure.
- If we take our stand upon the revelation of God, no revolution—not even a revolution in sex and gender—can confuse us. If we take our stand in any other authority, every revolution will engulf us.
- The gathering storm is real—and we can see it, and we dare to see it for what it is. But Jesus Christ is Lord, and he promised that the gates of hell shall not prevail over his church. And that is enough.
Appendix: The Storm Over the Courts
- For several decades now, the courts—and the Supreme Court in particular—have taken unto themselves powers that should be in the hand of Congress or the White House. In most cases, the courts have taken up issues that Congress was either unwilling or unable to resolve. In other cases, the judiciary has usurped power for itself.
- The competing visions for the Supreme Court center on divergent hermeneutics—different ways of reading a text. For decades, more liberal justices and law professors argued for the idea of a “living Constitution” that would evolve with the maturing nation. Conservatives, on the other hand, argued that any text, including the Constitution, should be interpreted in light of the author’s original meaning, looking to the actual text at stake.
- If the American people wanted to legalize abortion and same-sex marriage, Congress could have legalized them through the legislative process.
- Whoever appoints judges to the federal bench and justices to the Supreme Court controls, in large part, the future of the nation.
- Christians understand that there is more at stake in the storm over the courts—including the future of religious liberty. At no time in our nation’s history have the courts been such a focus of attention—and rightfully so.
Before You Open Your Bible: Nine Heart Postures For Approaching God’s Word by Matt Smethurst. 10 Publishing. 63 pages, 2019
The author tells us that some of us are intimidated by the Bible while others of us are bored with it out of sheer familiarity. He tells us that how we approach things matters in a huge way, and without the right heart postures, we’re not yet ready to start reading our Bible. In this short, but helpful, book, he covers nine of these heart postures. You won’t approach the Bible in the same way after reading this book. Below are a few takeaways about each heart posture:
Approach your Bible prayerfully.
- I am convinced that a prayerless approach to God’s Word is a major reason for the low-level dissatisfaction that hums beneath the surface of our lives.
- What does it look like to approach your Bible prayerfully? It means not rushing into your Bible reading, expecting the pages to magically microwave your cold heart.
- When you open your Bible, don’t expect to be put under some mystical spell. Speak directly with the Author. Ask the Spirit to unblind you to the beauty staring you in the face.
Approach your Bible humbly.
- Your Bible is like an all-access pass into the revealed mind and heart of God.
- We should never take for granted that the exalted Creator would befriend the work of his hands. But that’s precisely what he did.
- The Bible you possess is evidence that God loves you and wants a relationship with you.
Approach your Bible desperately.
- Is it more accurate to say I’m willing to hear from God or that I’m desperate to hear from him?
- Your soul will wither and die without your Bible. Approach it desperately.
Approach your Bible studiously.
- We study God to praise God. And we cannot praise what we do not know.
- The purpose of theology is to stoke your worship, to deepen your love, to fuel your mission, and to sustain your life.
- Do you want deeper worship? Richer joy? Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, as the hymn says? Then approach your Bible with a learner’s posture, asking the Author to teach you marvelous things.
Approach your Bible obediently.
- Biblical obedience is not about keeping an arbitrary set of rules; it’s about living in accordance with our design, in harmony with our Maker.
- The Bible is not an arbitrary list of prohibitions; it’s an epic story of a Creator more committed to your joy than you could imagine.
- Approach your Bible obediently, because obedience produces joy.
Approach your Bible joyfully.
- You were made to be happy in a happy God.
- Far from being a peripheral subtheme in Scripture, joy is the heartbeat of God.
- Despite what our culture tells you, real joy is not found in listening to yourself; it’s found in listening intently to God.
- The purpose of the words of Jesus and his apostles—the purpose of your Bible, friend—is to flood your heart with joy.
Approach your Bible expectantly.
- Friend, no matter how much life has let you down, God’s Word never will. It can bear the weight of your expectations. It is unlike anything else you own.
- When you come to your Bible, come with anticipation. I assure you that among its pages you’ll discover everything you need, and more than you expect.
Approach your Bible communally.
- Don’t let this week go by without inviting another believer to meet with you regularly to read God’s Word.
Approach your Bible Christocentrically.
- The Bible has one ultimate plan, one ultimate plot, one ultimate champion, one ultimate King.
- From beginning to end, your Bible is an epic story about Jesus.
- Approach the Scriptures Christocentrically—with a view to how the Bible in its entirety centers on Christ, the one in whom all the promises of God are “Yes” and “Amen” (2 Cor. 1:20). the way we treat the words of God reveals what we really think and feel about him.
The author tells us that approaching our Bible well is nothing less than an act of worship. He finishes the book with recommended resources in a few categories (study Bibles, guidebooks for studying and interpreting Scripture, books that give a good overview of the larger story of the Bible, and books if you’re a parent or caregiver).
A Way with Words: Using Our Online Conversations for Good by Daniel Darling. B&H Books. 224 pages. 2020
In this book, Daniel Darling considers the important subject of communicating in the internet age. He addresses the way we conduct ourselves in this new reality, the way we behave online. He tells us that we have a speaking God, which means that those who bear his image are also speakers. Sadly however, not all the words that we create reflect God’s own beautiful words, which is the reason for the book. The author states that nobody who bears the name of Christ is exempt from the Bible’s command toward thoughtful speech. He reminds us that we are the people, after all, who should most care about the truth as we serve the One who ultimately claimed to be the truth.
In this book, the author addresses such important topics as confirmation bias (the instinct to believe the worst things about people with whom we might disagree); a “hive mind” (groups of people who come to a consensus about something without hearing or being willing to listen to alternative ideas; performative posting (a projection of a life and a persona that we wish we had. It’s wanting to be seen as the kind of person we wish we were rather than who we really are); performative victimhood, courage and civility; conspiracy theories; the emerging shame and cancel culture; discernment (a constant theme directed toward the people of God in the Bible, and thus not an optional exercise for believers); creating unnecessary division in the body of Christ, which he writes is not just annoying, but sinful; how we process the news and interact with it online, suggesting that we begin with a commitment to read a variety of perspectives, not just those that confirm our biases; not only being right, but having the right tone; how to properly steward our influence; what our online speech is modeling for others; and the impact of the internet on the local church.
The book includes two appendices:
- 10 things the Bible Says about our Speech
- How to Read the News
A key thought in the book for me was that we should always be asking ourselves how we might be using our social media activity and our public work to serve the body of Christ and to point a lost world toward Jesus. A good question for all of us to ask is:
- How can we make our corner of the internet a better place?
This is an important and timely book. Below are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
- The internet can make us smarter, but it can also be the equivalent of eating junk food three meals a day. Christians who live in this age have to resist the wrong impulses of either being drawn into endless rabbit trails of information or withdrawing completely.
- The quick thrill of being in the know is a cheap substitute for the peace of knowing the One who created us and rescues us from our fruitless pursuits and is leading us toward a place where our longings to know and be known will be fully realized.
- We are susceptible to believe news, to jump ahead of the facts, to not wait for the full story because we want to believe the worst about the people with whom we disagree.
- Because we don’t wait before speaking, we allow confirmation bias and the internet’s hive mind to keep us from wisely evaluating both what we are hearing and what we are communicating.
- What’s ironic about this emerging shame culture is the way it draws out the longings of the human heart for justice and the way it tries, but fails, to mirror the story the Bible tells about righteousness and justice, forgiveness and grace.
- We might think we are doing the right thing by speaking against injustice, but if we do this without having all the facts and spread misinformation, we are sinning. Even if we are doing it in favor of a right cause.
- I think there is a big difference between what often passes for “discernment” and genuine, biblical discernment.
- Love motivates us to avoid offering critiques flippantly, without getting all the facts and understanding fully the position of the person with whom we disagree.
- Influence, held loosely as a stewardship from God, can be a good thing for Christ’s kingdom. However, influence stewarded poorly can be an addictive drug, an unworthy god whose adulation is undeserved.
- It doesn’t matter if ten or a hundred or a thousand people “like” us online; we are loved by the One who breathed life into us, who formed the universe, and whose assessment is the only one that ultimately matters.
- The best kind of social media is when people are light-hearted and poking fun at themselves. Take the gospel seriously. Take your work seriously. But, for the good of your own soul, don’t take yourself seriously.
- There is a tribe joining that is healthy community and there is a tribalism that seeks to constantly do war with everyone else.
The Logic of God: 52 Christian Essentials for the Heart and Mind by Ravi Zacharias. HarperCollins Publishing. 275 pages. 2019
This book of 52 readings from Ravi Zacharias, who went home to be with the Lord May 19, is a collection of his writings, most of which have never before been published in book form. They were selected for their perspective on the many ways God has provided us with evidence of His existence and how this “logic” gives life meaning, establishes the credibility of the Christian message, shows the weakness of modern intellectual movements, demonstrates the certainty of the claims of Jesus Christ, and validates biblical teaching and Christian apologetics. Each reading is preceded by a relevant quote from the Bible. Two other features to help the reader to reflect on important themes in the readings – “Reflection Questions”, and apply the lessons learned from the readings – “Personal Application”. The author recommends that, if possible, you spend a week with each “experience”, although you can also read like a standard “daily devotional” as I did.
Below are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
- Truth by definition is exclusive. Everything cannot be true. If everything is true, then nothing is false. And if nothing is false, then it would also be true to say everything is false. We cannot have it both ways.
- In the pursuit of truth, intent is prior to content, or to the availability of it. The love of truth and the willingness to submit to its demands is the first step.
- It is Christ who shows that unless a person’s pain is understood, one will never understand a person’s soul.
- The more and the better we hear others, the more and the better they will hear us. This is especially true today when sensitivities run so deep.
- Christianity is not a religion or perspective; it is God’s self-disclosure in Christ. It is built on and built through a relationship.
- Let us come to the cross as we are: children desiring love, sinners needing mercy, souls weary of running through our nights and days, and ready to follow the One who ordains us.
- The cross is the centerpiece of the gospel message. It is truly the intersection of love and justice, judgment and grace, exactitude and mercy.
- The single greatest obstacle to the impact of the gospel has not been its inability to provide answers, but the failure on our part to live it out. That failure not only robs us of our inner peace but mars the intended light that a consistently lived life brings to the one observing our message.
- Jesus does not offer to make bad people good but to make dead people alive.
- Only when I am at peace with God can I be at peace with myself, and only then will I be at peace with my fellow humans and truly free.
- God alone can weave a pattern from the diverse strands of our lives—whether suffering, success, joy, or heartache—and fashion a magnificent design.
- God has put enough into this world to make faith in Him a most reasonable thing. But He has left enough out to make it impossible to live by sheer reason alone. Faith and reason must always work together in that plausible blend.
- Although prayer remains a mystery to all of us but especially to one who lives apart from God, I have observed again and again that even the hardened heart retains a longing for the possibility of communicating with God.
- Hope, like character, takes years to build and minutes to shatter. But hope, like character, can also rise beyond the moment to reinvest in what is of ultimate value: an eternal relationship with God.
- Faith is that sublime dependence upon God that even though we may not get what we want, we know and love the One who denies us for His good reason and for our ultimate good.
- Prayer draws the heart away from one’s own dependence to leaning on the sovereign God.
- Only when we surrender to the light of God’s truth in our own lives are, we enabled to truly see and then be a beacon of hope and healing in our dark world.
- Giving all that is your best to God is worship at its core.
Every Moment Holy, Volume 1
I first heard about the Doug McKelvey’s fine book Every Moment Holy, Volume 1 when Andrew Peterson read a selection from it as he began his breakout session at the 2019 Sing! conference. Not long after, my wife gave me a copy of the liturgy “For the Loss of a Living Thing” after Molly, our fourteen-year-old Alaskan Malamute had died.
The book includes more than 100 liturgies for use in a number of different ways. Some are meant to be read by a “Leader” and the “People”, as in a traditional liturgical service or responsive reading, while others are intended for personal use, read either silently or aloud. Throughout the book you will also find more than 20 illustrations supplementing the liturgies from artist Ned Bustard.
This is not a traditional book intended to be read from beginning to end. Instead, I would recommend that you find a comfortable place to sit, grab your favorite beverage, and review the “Contents”, which are divided into eleven sections, such as “Liturgies of Labor & Vocation”, “Liturgies of Blessing & Celebration”, “Liturgies of Sorrow & Lament”, etc. Some of the liturgies will pertain to your current situation, while others will not. You may find that some of the liturgies that don’t fit your personal situation may be liturgies that you can share with others. For example, we shared three – “For a Moment of Frustration at a Child” and “For the Changing of Diapers I & II” – with our niece who has sixteen-month-old triplet boys. I’ve enjoyed reading the “Liturgies of the Hours” (“Daybreak, “Midday” and “Nightfall”), and my wife and I have started using “Liturgies for Table Blessings”. I look forward to continue exploring these liturgies for both routine and special situations.
I purchased the new softcover “Pocket Edition” of the book, which is a perfect size to carry with you.
Becoming Us: Using the Enneagram to Create a Thriving Gospel-Centered Marriage by Beth McCord and Jeff McCord. Morgan James Publishing. 265 pages. 2019
I’ve long been interested in personality tests/assessments (Strengthfinders, Pace-Palette, StandOut, Myers-Briggs, etc.). They always help me to find out more about myself and others, especially those I worked with. I was somewhat familiar with the Enneagram, which has been popular in our church (which the authors attended for a number of years). I had taken quick on-line versions of the assessment, but had no idea the complexity of the Enneagram, which this book helpfully explains. The authors tell us that although the Enneagram may seem simple, it is really rather complex. They tell us not to be discouraged if it takes you a long time to discover your true main Type. The authors offer a free assessment on their website to help readers, family and friends find their main Type. No Type is better or worse than another, but all Types are equal. The real impact of the Enneagram is explaining the underlying why of what we do.
The book also looks at how the Enneagram can be used to help you have a healthy marriage. The authors bring to life the concepts discussed by using examples from their life and marriage.
They tell us that the purpose of the Enneagram is to awaken self-awareness and to provide hope as we look at ourselves and each other. Used properly, it can cut through difficult circumstances to help us understand each other in a more honest and loving way.
The book is divided into two sections:
- Part 1 is about faith, the author’s stories, the Enneagram, and stories about communication and conflict from some of their friends whose marriages have been impacted by the Gospel and through the Enneagram.
- Part 2 is an “Enneagram Roadmap,” which is a helpful guide to each of the Types with two parts: how to better understand yourself and how to better understand the Type of your spouse. The Enneagram Roadmap lists each of the nine Types in two parts: The first part is called “Understanding Me” and the second part is called “Understanding Them.” Included are sections about core motivations, childhood patterns, wings, stress and growth paths, levels of alignment with the Gospel, communication and conflict style.
Beth McCord is an Enneagram coach and husband Jeff is a pastor and mediator. Some sections of the book are written in a combined voice, while other sections are specifically from either Beth or Jeff. The book is written in a casual, almost conversational tone, with humor sprinkled throughout.
They write that the Gospel brought healing to them individually and to their marriage before they ever heard of the Enneagram. Later, the Enneagram became a tool for their growth and sanctification in Christ. They tell us that the Enneagram is an insightful tool, but the Gospel is the transformation. The Enneagram simply illuminates our heart’s intent. The Enneagram can show us what’s wrong; only Christ can fix it.
I learned that there are many, many more aspects to the Enneagram than just our Type. For example:
The authors tell us that your Enneagram Type has many important factors, but there are four “Core Motivations” that are the driving force behind your thoughts, feelings, and actions: Core Fear, Core Desire, Core Weakness, and Core Longing. Adding to the many layers of difference are the Levels of Alignment, which gauge how closely we’re living in alignment with the Gospel. In addition to these underlying Core Motivations and Levels of Alignment are Wings, which are the Types on either side of your main Type, and Triads, which are groupings of three Types that digest events or information from a particular Center of Intelligence: Head, Heart, or Gut Instinct. And to help you find your way, there are lines and arrows that show you the path along the way.
Everyone is a combination of one main Type and the two Types adjacent to it. You can group the nine personality Types in many ways. The most common one is by Triads, or groupings of three. For each person, one triad is more dominant than the other two, and that is where your main Type resides.
The authors discuss our “Childhood Message”, the message we were either told directly or we sensed and interpreted from life circumstances through the lens of our personality Type. They tell us that this message was, and still is, painful to us.
This book is helpful for those wanting to find out more about the Enneagram and how it can be used to help with your marriage. For those who want to go deeper with their particular Type, Beth has recently published individual full-length books on each Type.
Below are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:
- “Assumicide” perfectly sums up what we do in our relationships with each other. It’s when we (incorrectly) believe we know another person’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations. Committing assumicide is so easy to do because we truly believe everyone sees the world from our perspective.
- The Enneagram will reflect to us the current condition of our hearts and help us know when our hearts are drifting away from the Gospel.
- The Enneagram can shed light on why we saw our upbringing from a particular perspective. Each Type will react to the same circumstances in different ways.
- Each of the Enneagram Types has their own communication style. Each Type communicates in a style that reflects their Core Motivations.
- When we perceive that our Core Fear is coming true, we’ll communicate in a way that reflects our heart to protect ourselves.
- It’s essential for each of us to recognize, learn, and accept that other people do not see the world the same way we do.
- Just as each Type has its own unique communication style, each of us has our own unique “conflict style” that correlates with our Enneagram Type.
A Shelter in the Time of Storm: Meditations on God and Trouble by Paul Tripp. Crossway. 160 pages. 2009
I read this book of 52 devotional readings on Psalm 27 by Paul Tripp during the COVID-19 pandemic “stay at home” period, truly a time of storm in the world. I had previously enjoyed the author’s daily devotional New Morning Mercies.
The author tells us that the Psalms put difficulty and hope together in the tension of hardship and grace that is the life of everyone this side of eternity. Psalm 27 is a psalm of honesty and hope, it tells us that even in the middle of difficulties that we do not understand nor seem able to escape, we have reason to take heart and have hope. It is a psalm of worship, commitment, trouble, beauty, and patience.
He tells us that the hope of Psalm 27 is patient, and it grows stronger as it waits, because it is rooted in a daily consideration of the goodness of the Lord.
The book is not a commentary on Psalm 27. Instead, what the author has done is pulled out themes from Psalm 27 and assembled them into a picture of how to live with hope in God in a world that is fallen. Each reading, many of which are written as poetry, ends with a helpful “Take a Moment” section that includes two questions for the reader to apply the reading. The author’s hope is that these reflections will fill the reader’s heart with a patient hope that grows stronger as the trouble-spotted days go by.
Below are 20 of my favorite quotes from the book:
- There is a God of awesome grace who meets his children in moments of darkness and difficulty. He is worth running to. He is worth waiting for. He brings rest when it seems like there is no rest to be found.
- There’s not a day where you and yours are not protected by the most powerful, protective, and beneficial force in the universe—the grace of God.
- You will only know the rest for which you seek when you begin to embrace the astounding reality of who you are as a child of God.
- You are secure for one reason and one reason alone: God exists and he is your Father. He will never leave your side. He will never fail to provide. He will make good on everything he has promised. And he has the power to do so. He is Lord.
- Every human being is on a quest for God; the problem is we don’t know that, and in our quest for stability, we attempt to stand on an endless catalog of God-replacements that end up sinking with us.
- He is the Rock for which you are longing. He is the one who alone is able to give to you the sense that all is well.
- He will supply for us every good thing that we need to be what he has called us to be, and to do what he has called us to do in the place where he has put us.
- Prayer finds its hope not in the qualifications of the one praying, but in the character and plan of the God who is hearing.
- When you rest in him, you can take heart because he really does have the power to deliver everything he has promised you.
- God’s grace means that I can rest assured that I’ll have everything I need to be what he wants me to be and to do what he wants me to do in the situation in which he has placed me.
- When I’m in difficulty and I take heart in the Lord, rather than be weakened by the difficulty, I grow stronger.
- It is only when my life is shaped by a pursuit of God that I can live with a heart that is satisfied and at rest.
- The reality of waiting is that it’s an expression of God’s goodness. He is wise and loving. His timing is always right, and his focus isn’t so much on what you will experience and enjoy, but on what you will become.
- Here is what you and I have to understand: Jesus was willing to suffer the horrible rejection of his Father so that you and I would never, ever have to experience it ourselves.
- Trust in God isn’t a thin hope in some not very sure outcome. Hope in God is rather a present investment in a future guarantee.
- What God says will be done. What God has promised will come to pass.
- He will never call us to do a task without giving us what we need to do it.
- He has the power to protect you, and he has the grace to restore your soul. He gives strength to the weary and returns the joy of the broken.
- The good that God promises me isn’t a situation, possession, position, or relationship. The good that he promises me is himself. What could possibly be a better gift than that?
- Either you are living in pursuit of the creation or you are living in pursuit of the Creator.
The Apostles’ Creed: Discovering Authentic Christianity in an Age of Counterfeits by Albert Mohler. Thomas Nelson 240 pages. 2019
The author, a respected theologian and seminary president, tells us that though the “Apostles’ Creed” is just one treasured summary of the Christian faith, it is the most commonly confessed doctrinal statement in Christian history. Between the beginning and the end of the Apostles’ Creed is the entire body of biblical truth with the gospel of Jesus Christ as its center. All Christians believe more than is contained in the Apostles’ Creed, but none can believe less. The Apostles’ Creed was not written by the apostles, but the church fathers, and reflects the early church’s effort to express and summarize the faith given by Christ to the apostles. The creed stands as a timeless distillation of the Christian faith. In a few short words, the Apostles’ Creed proclaims the infinite glory of the Christian gospel.
In this helpful book, the author takes us through each stanza of the Apostles’ Creed, which begin with the statement “I believe.” Each and every section of the creed encapsulates the very essence and foundation of what the people of God believe—and what they have always believed. The framers of the creed penned into its affirmations only what they understood as essential to the Christian faith. The author tells us that we should see the Apostles’ Creed as a confession of Christ with an introduction and a conclusion. What Christians desperately need at this time is to return to historic Christianity, the Christianity that emerged from the rich doctrinal commitments and evangelistic fervor of the apostles. The author tells us that a study on the Apostles’ Creed could not be more relevant in this age of modernity.
Below are my favorite quotes from the book:
- Christians are defined by one primary mark: we believe in and are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Just as in the early centuries of the church, it takes courage to be an orthodox Christian.
- The shortest and most universal declaration of any Christian is simply this: “Jesus is Lord.”
- Some even claim that they can accept Christ as Savior but not as Lord. This assertion, however, is a complete misunderstanding of New Testament theology and an unbiblical separation of Christ’s offices of Priest and King.
- A Christian who doesn’t believe in the virgin birth is in eternal peril, for the one in whom he believes is not the One who is testified in the Scriptures.
- If Christians deny the virgin birth, and treat the conception of the Holy Spirit as a myth, then they threaten a whole range of other Christian doctrines: the truthfulness of Scripture, the humanity of Christ, the sinlessness of Christ, and the nature of grace.
- The Son did not devise his own plan for salvation. He came to do the will of his Father.
- The message of the cross is the good news of salvation, and the story of the cross is the story of God’s love for sinners.
- To deny substitutionary atonement, one denies the nature of God and the only hope of salvation for mankind.
- Jesus Christ rose on the third day! This is the greatest good news in all of human history.
- In some mysterious, spectacular way, the indwelling of the Spirit eclipses the physical presence of Jesus Christ.
- Christ’s judgment will be so perfect that all the judged—whether declared righteous through Christ or not—will agree with the righteousness of the judgment.
- An anemic view of sin will give way to a cheap gospel, a pointless cross, and a Messiah who need not to have shed his blood.
- Heaven is not a place of less; it is a place of infinitely more. All the good things known in this life will either be amplified infinitely in the life everlasting, or they will be transcended by things that are infinitely better.
A Gentle Answer: Our ‘Secret Weapon’ in an Age of Us Against Them by Scott Sauls. Thomas Nelson. 224 pages. 2020
A Gentle Answer is Scott Sauls’ fifth book. I’ve read them all, and been both blessed and challenged by them. In this timely book, he tells us that whatever the subject may be—politics, sexuality, immigration, income gaps, women’s concerns, race, or any other social matters over which people have differences—angst, suspicion, outrage, and outright hate increasingly shape our response to the world around us. He states that this feels like a culture of suspicion, mistrust, and us-against-them. On the other hand, Jesus is a God of reconciliation and peace, not a God of hate or division or us-against-them. He is the God of the gentle answer. Jesus renounced outrage and advanced the power of a gentle answer throughout his ministry.
The author tells us that in our current cultural moment, outrage has become more expected than surprising, more normative than odd, more encouraged than discouraged, more rewarded than rejected. We form entire communities around our irritations and our hatreds. For our generation, hate has been commodified. It has been turned into an asset. His challenge to us is to decide whether we take offense and strike back, or instead, do we seek to extend kindness and offer a gentle answer? His hope is that because Jesus Christ offered a gentle answer instead of pouring out punishment and rejection for our offensive and sinful ways, we can offer gentle answers to those who behave offensively and sinfully toward us.
The book aims to answer the question, “What must happen in and around us so that we become the kind of people who offer a gentle answer?” The book is as much about what must happen to us and inside us (how to be angry and not sin, how to accept criticism, not to seek retaliation, etc.), as it is about what must be done by us to engage faithfully in a world of us-against-them.
The book is organized into two parts:
Part 1 “The Gentleness Jesus Has for Us” examines how every Christian is a beneficiary of the gentleness of Jesus. This is the ultimate reason why every Christian’s response to our us-against-them climate ought to be gentleness.
Part 2 “How His Gentleness Changes Us”, examines the practical and obvious by-product of his gentleness toward us: namely, that we ourselves become gentle—as we grow thicker skin, do anger well, receive criticism graciously, forgive all the way, and even bless our own betrayers.
Each chapter ends with helpful questions for reflection and discussion, which add to the reading experience, whether you are doing it individually or even better, reading and discussing with others. The book can be considered a prequel and companion to the author’s excellent first book Jesus Outside the Lines, which I read and discussed with my wife Tammy.
He gives the reader a challenge when he writes that since God’s default response to human offense is to be slow in his anger—even the righteous kind—how much more should this be true of us, even when expressions of righteous anger may be entirely justified?
In this book he looks at how the world’s experience of Christians (who are often perceived to be hypocritical), is so different than Christians’ experience of Christ. He looks at persecution, how to be angry but not sin, how to accept criticism, forgiveness, how the line dividing good and evil cuts through every human heart, and much more. Throughout the book, the author illustrates his points by sharing insights from characters both in the Bible – Zacchaeus, Nathanael, David, Paul, Peter, Hosea, Stephen, Isaiah, Jonah, Judas, and modern day – John Perkins, Martin Luther King Jr., Ann Voskamp, C. Everett Koop, Mother Teresa, Tim Keller, Miroslav Volf and Rachael Denhollander, to name a few.
The author gives us this final charge – “Armed with a gentle answer, modeled and provided by our gentle Savior himself, it is time that we got about the business of mending our fractured world with a presence that is less combative and more gentle and kind. The flourishing of our witness depends on it, and the good name of our Savior is worthy of it.”
This is a timely and helpful book. Below are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
- Those who yearn to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God advance righteousness by speaking and living a message of love—not a sappy, sentimental love, but one that is undergirded with truth and with the courage and wisdom needed to confront.
- Because Jesus Christ has loved us at our worst, we can love others at their worst. Because Jesus Christ has forgiven us for all of our wrongs, we can forgive others who have wronged us. Because Jesus Christ offered a gentle answer instead of pouring out punishment and rejection for our offensive and sinful ways, we can offer gentle answers to those who behave offensively and sinfully toward us.
- Because Jesus has covered all of our offenses, we can be among the least offensive and least offended people in the world. This is the way of the gentle answer.
- Jesus and Christianity do not discriminate between good people and bad people. Instead, Jesus and Christianity discriminate between humble people and proud people.
- Responding to sin and selfishness with a gentle answer instead of retribution and shame seems offensive to those who are prone to separate the world into the good people and the bad people, as opposed to the proud people and the humble people.
- Christ did not come into the world to affirm and accept the good people, but rather to rescue and receive the people who are not good.
- When faith becomes sour and starts to look and feel like all law and no love, all truth and no grace, all judgment and no embrace, all exclusion and no welcome, it’s clear we have drifted from the heart and ways of Jesus Christ. This becomes a Christianity void of Christ, which, of course, is not Christianity at all, but a farce.
- Jesus sees both the best and worst in us, and he loves us just the same.
- It is Jesus’s love—his gentleness and grace toward us—that equips us and compels us to stand up and speak out against injustice and hurt in the world.
- If we identify as Christian but experience little criticism or opposition for our faith, a gut check is likely in order. Are we going along to get along?
- When we become less tethered to this world because we have become more tethered to Jesus Christ and the world to come, we can be certain that, ultimately, we are giving up nothing and will receive everything.
- To be rejected in the eyes of the world for the sake of Christ is to be esteemed in the eyes of God.
- Anger reveals the things that we love most. We only get angry when something or someone we love is threatened, oppressed, or abused.
- The more we learn about Jesus and become like him, the more we understand that clinging to what is good often requires us to hate what is evil, because evil is the enemy of good.
- Only those who know that God will set every wrong right can truly forgive as God in Christ has forgiven them.
- Our character must matter more to us than our reputations.
- The true prisoner of a grudge is not the one against whom it is held, but the one who does the holding.
- The forgiveness that we have received becomes the forgiveness that we must share.
- When we come to the realization that the line of good and evil cuts through our hearts just as it does through the heart of every kind of betrayer, it gives us pause about assuming a holier-than-thou or fiercely oppositional posture in our dealings with others.
Can Science Explain Everything? by John Lennox. The Good Book Company. 128 pages. 2019
In this short, but helpful book, John Lennox, professor of mathematics emeritus at Oxford University, gives us an introduction to the “Science and God debate”, a subject I have not previously given much attention to. He writes that many people conclude that God and science do not mix, but this is simply not true. Instead, he writes that science and God mix very well. It is science and atheism that do not mix.
In this book, he examines many of the misconceptions people have, not just about faith and belief in God, but about science itself. The author writes about science in a very understandable manner. He shares thoughts and ideas that he has found most helpful to share with people, and some of the most interesting and unusual conversations he has had over the years.
He begins by providing some historical context for how we arrived at the current position of thinking that science and God do not mix. He writes about the convictions of some of the greatest scientists in history, many of whom were Christians. The late Stephen Hawking, who was an atheist, said that we have to choose between science and God. The author disagrees with that statement. He tells us that there cannot be an essential conflict between being a scientist and having faith in God.
He writes that it is wrong to suggest that science is the only way to truth. Science has its limitations. A world in which clever mathematical laws all by themselves bring the universe and life into existence is pure (science) fiction. Unfortunately, many people give to all statements by scientists the authority rightly due to science, simply because they are stated by a scientist.
The author states that he rejects atheism because he believes Christianity to be true. But he also rejects atheism because he is a scientist. He asks how he could be impressed with a worldview that undermines the very rationality we need to do science? The Bible gives us a reason for trusting reason. Atheism does not. This is the exact opposite of what many people think. Both science and the Bible insist on the importance of rational argument.
An interesting part of the book, and one that not all will agree with, was his discussion about the origin of the universe, which science talks about being 13.8 billion years ago, and not in the very recent past as some readings of Genesis 1 might indicate. The author contends that quite apart from any scientific considerations, we can read Genesis 1:1 in a way that leaves the age of the universe indeterminate. He believes that there is no in-principle objection to the current scientific dating from the biblical perspective.
He discusses the topic of miracles. It was in Eric Metaxas’ book Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life, that I first heard of the Lennox. He writes that to suppose that Christianity was born in a pre-scientific, credulous, and ignorant world is simply false to the facts. He tells us that when a miracle takes place, it is the laws of nature that alert us to the fact that it is a miracle.
Lennox writes that the crucial difference between the Christian view and a world-view that denies the existence of God is that Christians do not believe that this universe is a closed system of cause and effect. Rather, they believe that it is open to the causal activity of its Creator God.
He addresses the issue of evil and suffering, indicating that there are many people, scientists included, for whom the existence of evil and suffering constitutes a very big problem. But the Christian response to this question is something that offers both hope, and comfort to those who are experiencing it, which it is hard to find in a worldview that rejects the notion of God entirely.
He looks at the reliability of the New Testament. He states that the common views that the New Testament text is untrustworthy, or is invented much later than it claims to be, or is simply a fake, simply do not stand up to any serious examination.
He addresses the resurrection of Jesus, stating that perhaps the most astonishing thing about the resurrection of Jesus is that, from the very start, the leaders of the Christian community staked the whole validity of the gospel message upon it. He states that critics have been desperately attempting to discredit the resurrection for 2,000 years, and have failed, because the evidence for it is simply too strong.
He then addresses the personal dimension of the debate. He states that when we begin to talk about personal relationships, we leave science behind, but we don’t leave rationality behind. Since God is a person and not a theory, we can only get to know him if he reveals himself to us, and most specifically, he has spoken to us in his Son.
Lennox gives us the biblical diagnosis, which is that we have inherited a nature that is sinful and then have proceeded to sin on our own account. But many people try to pile up their merit in the hope of one day gaining God’s acceptance, which will never work. He writes that it is remarkable how many people seem to be prepared to work for God to earn their salvation, yet they are not prepared to trust him. The only way to avoid judgment however, is to cease trying to gain acceptance by merit and instead trust Jesus for salvation.
The final chapter has the author testing the truth of Christianity. He tells us that there is overwhelming evidence of the transforming power of Christ in the lives of those who turn to him for salvation. He writes that we can and must check things out from a distance, but that is just a first step. To gain final evidence of the truth of Christianity we have to give up that distance and repent and trust Christ.
The books ends with a description of other books by the author as well as other books related to this one by other authors.
Have No Fear: Being Salt and Light Even When It’s Costly by John C. Lennox. 10 Publishing. 72 pages. 2018
In August, 2019, I attended John Lennox’s excellent breakout session “Have No Fear” at the 2019 Sing! Getty Music Worship Conference. Attending that helpful session led me to read this short book of the same title.
Lennox tells us that Jesus said that his followers were the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-14). They swim against the stream. But that doesn’t mean that they were never afraid. Peter wrote that we should always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15). But we don’t always feel prepared, and we get scared of what people might say. It’s hard to swim against the flow. The purpose of this short book is to demonstrate that we can be a faithful witness to Jesus. We are to be Jesus’ ambassadors by our words and actions, but we are not alone in this. Jesus promised that he would send the Holy Spirit to bear the major burden of witness.
Lennox tells us that it is one-to-one conversations that are the key to Christian witness, but it is not us who starts this conversation. We should observe something about the person we are witnessing to and then ask them a question related to it. We should keep asking them questions until they ask us one.
We should begin by asking them ordinary questions so that we can get to know them, and learn how to build bridges with them. We should listen for their questions about our faith and when they arise, we need to take them seriously.
We should share the essence of our Christian hope and the reasons behind our belief. We may get stuck and not be able to answer a particular question. The author gives us a strategy for coping with such occasions.
The author suggests briefly acknowledging the Lord in conversations, reminding me of what Bill Peel and Walt Larimore refer to as “Faith Flags”, in their fine book Workplace Grace: Becoming a Spiritual Influence at Work. Another helpful suggestion is to invite a few people to your home to watch an interesting video or listen to a podcast, preferably showing both sides of an issue, and then discussing it. The author offers helpful videos on his website for this purpose.
The author tells us that our priority as witnesses should be to bring people into direct contact with Scripture. He suggests using a resource called The Word: One to One, and also carrying a Gideon New Testament with us to give away.
Lennox tells us that our character plays a major role in our witnessing. No one will be interested in what we say unless they can see that our lives back up what we profess to believe. He tells us that we need to “walk the talk”. We also need to show gentleness and respect as we witness (1 Peter 3:15).
The author tells us that a key aspect of our witness is explaining the difference between conventional views of religion and Christianity, including clearly explaining what salvation means.
After someone professes faith in Christ, we should encourage them to grow in their faith by reading Scripture, finding a good church and a Bible study group.
There is much of value in this short book about witnessing without fear.
Final Word: Why We Need the Bible by John MacArthur. Reformation Trust Publishing. 134 pages. 2019
Respected pastor John MacArthur writes in this short book that without a doubt, the ground Satan most vigorously and continuously attacks these days is the trustworthiness of Scripture—its authority, sufficiency, inerrancy, integrity, and perspicuity. He writes that like Luther and the heroes of the early Reformation, we must meet the enemy head-on and be willing to stand and fight for the truth, especially when others avoid or even abandon truth when it becomes controversial.
He tells us that the war for the truth began in Genesis 3, where we see the first instance of Satan’s strategic assault on God’s Word. Sin arrived when Eve stopped trusting the truthfulness of God’s word and began believing that He was wickedly restrictive. Truth cannot be subjective; there is no such thing as your truth or my truth. Truth is forever fixed. Authentic Christianity has always held that Scripture is absolute, objective truth. The purpose of God’s Word is to deposit life-transforming truth into the mind.
MacArthur writes that perhaps no doctrine has been as consistently assaulted from within the church as the inerrancy of Scripture. God’s Word is under constant assault from critics, cultists, the charismatic movement, the culture, and from the carnal wisdom of the world. Carnal wisdom is whatever Satan attempts to stack against the authority and sufficiency of Scripture: so-called science, human reason, and feeble notions of justice and fairness. He writes that we must uphold the standard of God’s truth, proclaiming its inerrancy, authority, sufficiency, perspicuity, and integrity, and embrace and exalt six truths about the Scripture: its objectivity, rationality, veracity, authority, incompatibility, and integrity.
MacArthur discusses three definitive steps in the biblical pattern of sanctification. He writes that we have to understand what the Bible says and what it means if it is going to produce growth in us. The absence of biblical knowledge retards spiritual thinking and slows spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is the process of growing in Christlikeness—how we think, talk, and act must always be conforming to the Lord’s righteous standard. Sanctification is about being inwardly compelled to obedience. The Word reveals Christ to us, and the Word transforms us into His likeness. God’s people need to submit faithfully to the authority of all Scripture and to the sanctifying work the Spirit accomplishes through it in our lives. It is by seeking the glory of God, obeying the truth of God, and pursuing the will of God that one is sanctified.
MacArthur tells us that today, the church is overrun with false shepherds peddling faulty interpretations of Scripture that are not God’s Word. Much of the chaos and confusion in the church today is the direct result of pastors’ failing to carefully discharge their duty to teach sound doctrine and train people to be discerning, so as to guard the church from error. The church is overrun with “leaders” who have human skills but no passion for biblical scholarship. Tolerance toward people is a good and biblical virtue, but tolerance toward false teaching is sin. A pastor must faithfully feed the Word to the flock the Lord has given him. The state of any church can be known clearly by the content of the preaching, the gravity of the worship, and the doctrinal and God-centered nature of the music.
The author looks at several factors that indicate that we are advancing in our spiritual growth. He writes that if you’re not growing in your love for God, there is good reason to believe that you are treating Scripture superficially. Spiritual growth is the process of growing in Christlikeness—how we think, talk, and act must always be conforming to the Lord’s righteous standard.
Below are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
- Time has no influence on God’s Word. Changing philosophies, worldviews, and cultural norms have no effect on it, either. It is utterly unchanging and can never pass away.
- If God’s people want to fulfill their calling to be salt and light in this sinful world, they must cultivate a high view of His Word.
- If we’re not grounded in a right view of God’s Word, there is no way to advance the kingdom.
- All spiritual work is the work of God’s Word in the power of God’s Spirit.
- If we want to experience the supernatural work of God in our lives, we must understand that the Holy Spirit makes it happen only through His Word.
- All Christians, regardless of their spiritual maturity, need to cultivate a singular craving for God’s truth.
- If you’re not growing in your love for God, there is good reason to believe that you are treating Scripture superficially.
- We as believers ought to make a habit of recounting the goodness, kindness, and mercy of the Lord in our lives.
- Regardless of temporal trials and hardships, Scripture is clear that believers live blessed lives in the kindness and abundant provision of God.
- Only on this side of the cross can we confidently and constantly approach God, because our assurance is not in ourselves but in the completed work of His Son.
Where is God in a Coronavirus World? by John Lennox. The Good Book Company. 64 pages. 2020
The author, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, tells us that we living through a unique, era-defining period. Whether we are a Christian or not, the coronavirus pandemic is perplexing and unsettling for all of us. How do we begin to think it through and cope with it? Never before have we experienced the lockdown of cities and even countries, the closing of borders, the banning of travel, the shutting of all but essential services, the banning of large sports gatherings, and the silent towns and cities that shout of fear and self-isolation. The rate at which the pandemic is spreading is putting enormous strain on national health systems. Fear is stalking the world and it grows by the day as more and more people are affected.
This short book consists of the author’s reflections on what we are experiencing right now. He encourages us to engage with the book like he was sitting with us in a coffee shop (if they were open), and we have asked him the question “Where is God in a Coronavirus World?” The words in this book is what he would say to us to convey some comfort, support and hope. Though this is a short book, there is much of substance here. He quotes others, including C.S. Lewis (who was one of his professors at Oxford), frequently.
One major effect of the present situation is the universal feeling of increased vulnerability. People fear for their health, both physical and psychological; for their families and friends, particularly the elderly and infirm; for their social networks, their food supply, their jobs and economic security, and a host of other things.
Since all over the world churches are being closed in order to limit the spread of the virus, many are asking where God is—that is, if he is there at all. Where or from whom can we get real solace or hope? He tells us that in times of crisis, hope is what we look for. When life seems predictable and under control, it is easy to put off asking the big questions, or to be satisfied with simplistic answers. But life is not that way right now—not for any of us.
Coronavirus confronts us all with the problem of pain and suffering. This, for most of us, is one of life’s hardest problems. The book concentrates on what is called the problem of natural evil (rather than moral evil). His focus is on fractured nature—principally the coronavirus, but also all kinds of diseases and natural catastrophes like earthquakes and tsunamis.
He writes that we each need to make sense of coronavirus in three different ways: intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. In addition, our worldview will make a difference to how we react to disasters like the coronavirus pandemic, and to earthquakes or tsunamis.
He writes that according to the Bible, it is not true that if someone suffers some severe illness or accident, we therefore should conclude that he or she has secretly been guilty of serious sins. On the other hand, it is clearly a part of Christian teaching that although not all disaster and disease is a judgment of God (as in the case of Job), nevertheless some is. He tells us to beware of anyone who interprets pain caused by natural evil as a divine punishment. At the same time, we should equally beware of anyone who says that God has nothing to say through this pandemic, particularly to Western societies that have largely turned their back on him as culturally irrelevant. Removing God from the equation does not remove the pain and suffering. But removing God does remove something else—namely, any kind of ultimate hope.
God is not taken aback by the coronavirus; he can work for good even in the evil of it, and his plans will not be thwarted by it. The author tells us that a Christian is not so much a person who has solved the problem of pain, suffering and the coronavirus, but one who has come to love and trust a God who has himself suffered.
The author writes that the coronavirus is so called because it visibly resembles a crown (“corona” in Latin). A crown is a symbol of power and authority—and certainly this virus has colossal power over us humans. But hope is found in another corona: the crown of thorns that was forced on Jesus’ head at his trial before his execution.
In a fractured world, damaged through the consequences of human sin, pain and suffering are inevitable. Perhaps we had hidden from this reality until the coronavirus rampaged across the globe. How should Christians respond to the pandemic? He gives us a few thoughts:
- We would be wise to take heed of the best medical advice of the day.
- We are called to love. We should be looking for how we might love others, even at cost to ourselves—for that is how God has loved every Christian in the person of his Son, by dying for them on the cross. He tells us that loving our neighbor also means avoiding that selfish, hysterical attitude to food and basic necessities that leads to empty stores and our neighbors having to do without.
- We need to remember about eternity.
The author closes by telling us that only Jesus can give us peace in a pandemic. The issue for all of us is whether we will trust him to do so.
Pray Big: Learn to Pray Like an Apostle by Alistair Begg. The Good Book Company. 112 pages. 2019
The author, a respected pastor, writes that he wants to pray bigger, and better, and he wants his readers to enjoy praying like that too. To do that, we need to discover how to pray as the Apostle Paul did, which means we need to learn to believe what Paul did. Paul was a man who knew to whom he was praying. The author focuses on Paul’s prayers for his friends in the church in Ephesus, which he recounts to them in Ephesians 1: 15-23 and 3: 14-21. Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians from prison. The truths that underpin and shape Paul’s prayers will motivate us to pray, and they will help us know what to say.
To pray is an admission and an expression of dependence. Real prayer is from a dependent person to a divine Person. Our conversation with others declares what is on our minds, but our conversation with God in private reveals what is in our hearts. Prayer reminds us who we are, and who our Father is. We come to a loving Father, but we do not come as his equal. The author mentions a few times that all that matters may be brought before God, but what we bring before God is not always what matters most.
The book is organized around five great qualities for which Paul prays for his Ephesian brothers and sisters. They are:
- Pray for Focus
- Pray for Hope
- Pray for Riches
- Pray for Power
- Pray for Love
The author asks how might our prayer life be transformed if we used the headings of this book to shape our prayers.
We should pray for:
- The glory of God.
Pastor Begg quotes hymns throughout the book and ends each chapter with one of his own prayers. He writes that the reader might find it helpful to read one chapter of the book a week, and spend the rest of the week putting Paul’s divinely inspired wisdom into practice in your own prayers. Or, the reader could read it at the same time as a friend, and both commit to praying for each other in the ways the apostle lays out.
You can receive a free download of the book here from the Good Book Company during the month of April.
Here are 10 of my favorite quotes from the book:
- When I read Paul’s prayers, I am always struck by the fact that many of the matters that are the focus of my prayers are absent in his. What is striking is the absence of material issues.
- When the eyes of our hearts are opened to our future, it changes our lives now—it reorders our priorities and our prayers. We pray less about the practical details of this life, and first and foremost about the spiritual realities of our eternal life.
- The most transformational thing you can do today is to look clearly at Christ with the eyes of your heart.
- The story of the Bible is the story of a God who seeks out people who are hiding from him.
- You are going to live forever. The only question is where.
- We know our best days are all ahead of us. We know that death isn’t the end of the best time of our life; it’s the start of it.
- We are richer than we realize. And one day in glory, we will be richer than we can even begin to imagine. We’ll be with God.
- When you come to the end of your power, that is where you find his.
- Christianity is about the work of the Spirit to call you, convert you, and change you.
- Small prayers betray a suspicion that we have a small God. We don’t. He is able to do immeasurably more than you can imagine.
Saving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of Dort by W. Robert Godfrey. Reformation Trust Publishing. 265 pages. 2019
This book, by a respected church historian, seminary president and professor, was written on the 400th anniversary of the Synod of Dort, which took place in 1618-19. The synod was an international assembly of Reformed scholars who gathered to remedy the spreading infection of false teaching that undermined the gospel. A result of the synod was the canons, written as a specific response to the Arminian challenge against salvation by God’s grace alone—specifically, the objections to Reformed doctrine expressed in the five points of their Remonstrance. The author tells us that in the canons we find the Reformed doctrine of salvation focused to a point of intense and brilliant clarity.
The author tells us that studying the canons is much more that a historical exercise, rather, it is spiritually profitable for Christians and churches today. That is what I found as I read this book, which concentrates on the fundamentally religious convictions of the synod and the canons, which became the official teaching and sincere conviction of many churches and millions of Christians through the last four centuries.
The book is divided into three main parts:
Part I presents the historical and theological background to the synod.
Part II is the central part of the book, a new translation of the Canons of Dort. The author tells us that the canons were written for the church in a form designed to make them understandable for church members, and the new translation seeks to fulfill that aim.
Part III presents an analysis and exposition of the canons to help the reader understand the teaching of the canons. Although I enjoyed the entire book, I found this part to be the most interesting, as it helps to clearly show the differences between Arminian and Reformed theology.
In addition, the book contains five appendices:
Appendix 1: Arminius: A New Look (the lengthiest of the appendices)
Appendix 2: General Pattern in Each Head of Doctrine
Appendix 3: An Outline of the Canons of Dort
Appendix 4: Relation of the Positive Articles of the Canons to the Rejection of Errors
Appendix 5: A New Translation of the Doctrinal Statement by the Synod of Dort on the Sabbath
The author tells us that for the background to this theological difference that would lead to the Synod of Dort, we must look to the life and work of one minister in particular, Jacobus (James) Arminius (1559–1609). He would become a symbol of the rejection of Calvinist orthodoxy, and his name became attached to various anti-Calvinist theologies. Those ministers influenced by Arminius at the time of his death recognized that their positions in the church were precarious. They prepared an appeal or petition to the civil government. They stated their theological positions and requested that the government ensure their toleration in the church. This petition—called a “remonstrance”—came to be known as the Remonstrance of 1610. Those who signed the petition and supported it came to be called the Remonstrants. At the heart of the Remonstrance was a five-point summary of the doctrinal views that the Remonstrants wanted protected. In 1610, the five points of Arminianism were articulated. The Calvinists would claim that the five points of the Remonstrants reject the clear teaching of the Bible. The Synod of Dort would respond point by point to the Arminians, giving the world “the five points of Calvinism”. At the Synod of Dort, which convened on November 13, 1618, in the city of Dordrecht, the Calvinists would lay out the biblical truth on these matters, show their biblical fullness, and make clear the truly edifying nature of genuine Reformed Christianity. The author tells us that the great goals and the real accomplishments of the Synod of Dort were to declare and defend the truth, to provide comfort for the souls of Christians, and to ensure the peace and blessing of the churches. He tells us that the synod succeeded to a remarkable degree.
The author states that the Synod of Dort accomplished what it set out to do. It articulated and protected the Reformed understanding of the Bible recovered in the Reformation. It rejected the Arminian challenge to Calvinism. It saved the Reformation by clarifying and buttressing key elements of sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, and sola Scriptura, all under the rubric soli Deo gloria. He writes that the essence of the Reformation was the recovery of biblical religion. And that is what the Synod of Dort helped to save. The author tells us that Synod of Dort reminds us, however, that Reformed Christianity, and biblical Christianity, is much more than theology. Christian piety and the life of the church are central to it.
Below are 10 of my favorite quotes from the book:
- For Calvinists, God chooses individuals to salvation; for Arminians, He chooses qualifications for salvation that individuals must meet.
- By its own inherent logic, the Arminian teaching on the atonement necessarily leads to universalism, however much Arminians try to deny that.
- God is always good and just in all His dealings with mankind.
- The doctrine of reprobation should not terrify the spiritually concerned but should terrify those who are completely indifferent spiritually.
- Perhaps the most distinctive Reformed doctrine is that the Christian can not only know that he is in a present state of salvation but can know that he is elect and will persevere in faith to the end.
- Christ is the full and complete Savior both in the earning and in the giving of salvation. The sinner contributes nothing to salvation except his sin. All the grace that we have is purely and entirely a gift from God.
- God’s true character is revealed in both His mercy and His judgment.
- The power to regenerate the heart of a sinner is as exclusively God’s as was His work to create out of nothing at the beginning or to raise the dead back to life. This work is amazing and should be the source of great and humble praise.
- Sinners have no freedom to choose God. God must choose and act for them.
- The assurance of salvation—now and forever—is one of the great blessings of the Christian life.
Sanctification: God’s Passion for His People by John MacArthur. Crossway. 80 pages. 2020
This short book, written by a trusted pastor, is to encourage pastors to pursue the goal of the sanctification of God’s people. The goal of sanctification is not merely to make us appear holy, but to make us truly and thoroughly Christlike. An unsanctified life is the mark of an unbeliever.
Christ’s passion for his people’s sanctification sets the compass for a sound, biblical philosophy of ministry. The author tells us that this is a priority every competent, biblically qualified church leader will embrace, and that a godly pastor can be satisfied with nothing less than the sanctification of his people.
The author uses a few primary scriptural texts in the book, including Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, which was a fierce defense of faith alone as the sole instrument of justification, the principle of sola fide. The doctrine of justification is not only essential to a right understanding of the gospel; it is the doctrine that ties all other cardinal truths together. He tells us that for Paul, the doctrine of justification by faith is a powerful incentive to holiness.
Paul had two primary concerns in Galatians. First, he was deeply troubled that they were so easily being seduced away from the clarity and simplicity of the true gospel. Second, he was profoundly concerned for their sanctification. Paul saw his task clearly. His role was to participate in leading believers to Christlikeness. That is what he was most passionate about. That was his passion, and that was his purpose—the sanctification of the redeemed whom God had entrusted to his care.
The author then looks at the prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17. He tells us that the entire prayer reflects the priority of sanctification as Christ’s will for his people.
The author addresses what has become known as the “Young, Restless and Reformed” movement. His concern is that the movement as a whole has stressed and overstated the principle of Christian liberty without the necessary balance. True Christian liberty means deliverance from sin’s bondage and the law’s condemnation, not freedom from the law’s moral precepts. He writes that we should certainly proclaim and emphatically affirm the gospel’s indicatives. However, when the subject is sanctification, the Bible is full of imperatives.
The author tells us that unlike so many today, Paul did not shy away from speaking of sanctification or growth in grace as a duty. Sanctification was Paul’s central concern for the Christians of Galatia. He was as earnestly intent on leading them to mature Christlikeness as he had been to bring them to faith in the beginning. The author tells us that sadly, maturity seems to be in rare supply in churches today. He writes that we need to move past the young-and-restless stage. Immaturity and instability are hindrances to spiritual fruitfulness, not virtues. Real holiness makes a person steadfast and mature.
He offers a critique of many churches today, stating that rarely do you hear any popular preachers urge their people to be separate from the world, to deny fleshly desires, or to mortify sin and selfishness. Rather, preaching is designed to make people feel good about the way they are and to assure them that God likes them that way. But he tells us that there is a remnant of faithful churches with faithful ministers—godly shepherds who lead their flocks away from the world, away from self-interest, away from the fulfillment of their own desires.
He tells us how we got to this point where the focus of the message is personal satisfaction rather than Spirit-empowered sanctification. He writes about a heretical view of sanctification that perfectly fits with such a pragmatic church-growth strategy – antinomianism. Antinomianism starts with a denial that the moral precepts of God’s law remain obligatory as a rule of life for Christians. It therefore creates a radical disjunction between behavior and belief, and it erroneously uncouples sanctification from justification. The author tells us that antinomianism implies that the moral demands of God’s law are malleable, or that they are optional, or that they have been abrogated. He also writes that Antinomians abuse the principle of substitutionary atonement. The Antinomian stakes his claim on that doctrine and reasons that he therefore does not need to be troubled about his own lack of obedience. He tells us that antinomianism and legalism are two sides of the same coin, and that both legalism and antinomianism are hostile to the Spirit’s work in sanctification.
He also addresses the subject of God’s grace, telling us that the same grace that saves sinners from the penalty of their sin also instructs them in holiness.
This short book is to encourage pastors in the sanctification of those they shepherd, emphasizing that a godly pastor can be satisfied with nothing less than the sanctification of his people.
New Life in Christ: What Really Happens When You’re Born Again and Why It Matters by Steven Lawson. Baker Books. 224 pages. 2020
In this book, pastor Steven Lawson considers the new birth by looking at Jesus’s well-known encounter nighttime encounter with Nicodemus in John 3. I have seen the author preach on numerous occasions, and as Sinclair Ferguson writes in the “Foreword”, you may, as I did, hear his voice preaching as you read this book, which reads like one of his preaching series, and is a nice companion to his Ligonier Ministries teaching series The New Birth.
What does it mean to be born again? The author tells us that being born again means that God implants divine life within our spiritually dead heart. He tells us that there are two sides of the entrance into the kingdom of God. On one side is the person’s activity. The other side involves God’s activity. God must cause a person to be born again, which, in turn, produces saving faith. It is the new birth that enables us to receive Jesus Christ into our life. Similarly, R.C. Sproul would often say that “regeneration proceeds faith”.
The author tells us that regeneration is not a cooperative effort between two parties or a joint project involving two equals. Instead, the new birth is exclusively a divine work of God in the human heart. God must first originate new life within each dead heart. He must create saving faith. Only then are we enabled to respond to the gospel.
The author takes us through the nighttime conversation between the religious leader Nicodemus and Jesus in John 3: 1-21. He then applies his teaching with challenges to the reader about your own life.
The author tells us that Nicodemus was strictly religious and highly successful. He was outwardly moral and supremely regarded. But, unknown to Nicodemus, what he needed was God Himself. He needed the spiritual life that only God can give. Nicodemus stands as a prime example of someone who can cognitively know many facts about the Bible but not personally know God, and can be so close to the kingdom of God, yet so far away from it.
As Nicodemus talked to Jesus, he had to address Who exactly was Jesus? Who was this One standing before him? Why should he believe Him? The author tells us that these are also the answers that determine whether each of us accepts Christ’s words. Who really is Jesus? It is the decisive question all of us must face.
This is a well-written and easy to understand book that would be a good one to read and discuss with a non-believer or a new believer.
Below are 10 of my favorite quotes from the book:
- Being born from above radically alters us to the very core of our being. Instead of chasing after the allure of the world, our heart is now bent toward the worship of the glorious God.
- The hardest people to reach with the gospel are those who falsely presume they have a right relationship with God. These individuals are often highly moral in their personal life. They never see that they must be born again.
- People can have a head full of doctrinal truths, a biblical worldview, the standing of a model citizen, a reputation as religious, and even church status as a leader. In their own eyes, they are in good standing in the family of God. But here is the sad reality: they do not possess eternal life.
- No one is too sinful to be beyond the saving power of God. Nor is anyone so good that they do not need it.
- Being born again does not mean a good person becomes better or a sick person becomes well. The new birth involves a far greater change than this. It is, more accurately, a dead person coming to life.
- Our obedience does not produce the new birth. Rather, it is the new life from God that causes this obedience.
- Wherever there is regeneration, there will be spiritual growth in sanctification.
- God must regenerate us before we can exercise saving faith. The new birth gives us the spiritual capacity to respond to the gospel.
- There are many things we can risk being wrong about, but we cannot risk being wrong about the state of our soul with God.
- Repentance is a renunciation of all confidence in yourself to commend you to God. It is the denial of your self-efforts in order to trust Jesus Christ with your life and eternal destiny.
Praying the Bible by Donald Whitney. Crossway. 114 pages. 2015
In this short book, the author, a respected seminary professor, writes that Christians often don’t pray simply because they do not feel like it. And he states that the reason they don’t feel like praying is that when they do pray, they tend to say the same old things about the same old things. He tells us that the problem is not us, but our method of prayer. The method of most Christians in prayer is to say the same old things about the same old things. Prayers without variety eventually become words without meaning. He writes that it’s normal to pray about the same old things because our lives tend to consist of the same old things. His solution to this problem is that when we pray, we should pray through a passage of Scripture, particularly a Psalm. He states that God gave the Psalms to us so that we would give the Psalms back to God, and that no other book of the Bible was inspired for that expressed purpose.
He suggests that we pick a Psalm (he provides us a method for determining which psalm to choose each day when he discusses “Psalms of the Day”), and simply go through the passage line by line, talking to God about whatever comes to mind as we read the text. By following this method, we will never run out of anything to say, and, best of all, we will never again say the same old things about the same old things. What we will be doing is taking words that originated in the heart and mind of God and circulating them through our heart and mind back to God. The author tells us that by this means God’s words become the wings of our prayers. When we pray through a passage of Scripture, we won’t be praying empty, repetitive phrases. If we pray in this way, in the long run our prayers will be far more biblical than if we just make up our own prayers. Without the Scripture to shape our prayers, we are far more likely to pray in unbiblical ways than if we pray the thoughts that occur to us as we read the Scripture.
He addresses the difficulties of praying through the “imprecatory psalms,” those passages where the psalmist calls for God’s judgment upon his enemies. Next to the Psalms, he suggests praying through the New Testament letters because of the ease in which they can be turned into prayer. He also addresses the need to learn to pray through narrative passages because so much of the Bible is narrative.
The author allows time in the reading of the book to actually practice this method. He then shares the most common feedback he receives from people after he has taught them the method and they have practiced it.
He concludes the book by telling us about how George Mueller, Jesus and the early church prayed the Psalms, and how to pray the Bible with a group. He tells us that if we make it our prayer practice to pray the Bible, we’ll never again say the same old things about the same old things.
For a Continuing Church: The Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America by Sean Michael Lucas. P&R Publishing. 367 pages. 2016
As a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), I’d been wanting to read this book for some time. Thoroughly researched and footnoted, the book should be considered required reading for all PCA teaching (pastors) and ruling elders. After I finished the book, I asked myself what can we learn from this history of our denomination? There is certainly a progressive wing of the denomination today as we see certain churches and presbyteries pushing the limits on issues such as sexuality (Revoice Conference) and women’s role in the church (Deaconesses).
The author, a PCA pastor and seminary professor, tells us that the creation of the PCA on December 4, 1973 was an attempt to preserve a “continuing” Presbyterian church. Concerned about the liberal drift of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), those who led in forming the PCA were concerned with doctrinal and ecclesiastical issues. They believed that the agencies and boards of the denomination, along with many of its ministers, had become apostate and that the only way in which the mission and tradition of the PCUS could be preserved was through a separation. The PCA was formed to be a conservative mainline Presbyterian body, and now represents the largest conservative Presbyterian body in North America. The new denomination would affirm biblical authority, the Reformed evangelicalism of the Westminster Standards, and the evangelistic passion of the Great Commission.
The author tells us with excellent detail the story of how leaders in the PCUS, through the teaching of pastors in churches and seminaries, began to move to the left theologically as early as the 1920’s. The progressives had a goal throughout this history – a reunion with the northern Presbyterian church (PCUSA).
Conservatives felt that the church should focus on evangelism and worship, not political or social concerns. The issues of doctrine, mission, and reunion threatened the existence of the PCUS, whether by absorption from the larger northern body or by decay from within. The author tells us of progressives who defended evolution and denied biblical inerrancy who wanted to move the PCUS in a more progressive, tolerant, and ecumenical direction.
Among the issues that the author addresses in this history are the continuing movement toward the union with the northern church (PCUSA), the role of the Southern Presbyterian Journal, the threat of communism, how the PCUS addressed segregation, the Federal and National Council of Churches, ownership of church property, ordination of women, revival and evangelism, the inerrancy of scripture and biblical authority, Westminster Standards, Book of Church Order, denominational literature, universalism, secularization, Reformed Seminary and the eventual separation from the PCUS and forming of the PCA.
Similar to Martin Luther and the Roman Catholic Church, conservatives were initially more focused on reforming the church than on dividing it. But as the 1960s progressed and as the direction of the church moved harder leftward, southern Presbyterian conservatives began to consider the issue of separation. This eventually led to a new denomination, initially called the National Presbyterian Church. After a court challenge, the denomination’s name would be changed to the Presbyterian Church in America. In 1982, the denomination would join with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES), bringing into the denomination a college and seminary—Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, and Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, the latter of which I would graduate from in 2014.
This book details how the PCUS continued to move to the left, eventually forcing many, but not all, conservatives to leave the denomination and begin the PCA. From this, there is much we can learn, regardless of which denomination we are in about remaining faithful to scripture and our confessional standards.
The Hand of God: Finding His Care in All Circumstances by Alistair Begg. Moody Publishers. 256 pages. 2019
I read the first edition of this revised book twenty years ago, and recently listened to the wonderful sermon series that it is based on, which I would highly recommend, and that you can find on the Truth for Life website. The book is about the biblical doctrine of providence as expressed in the story of Joseph, one of my favorite characters in the Bible. The author tells us that Joseph’s story is the classic Old Testament Story of Romans 8:28, and that he was a life-sized illustration of that verse:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Through the events of his life, Joseph understood that God sovereignly orders all things that come to pass and preserves the lives of His creatures for His purposes. The author tells us that the doctrine of providence brought Joseph, and brings us as well, comfort in the face of great difficulty and sorrow.
The story of Joseph is well known. He was the object of his father’s special interest, his brothers’ jealous hatred, and God’s providential care. He was favored by his father Jacob, as one of two sons from wife Rachel. At age 17, his jealous brothers threw him in a pit to die, and then decided to sell him into slavery. Twenty years later, those same brothers would be reunited with Joseph, now second in command in Egypt, as they came for food during a famine. The author tells us that the story of Joseph is a tale of jealousy, deceit, slavery, misrepresentation, injustice, lust, rivalry, and forgiveness. It pits brother against brother.
The overarching theme of the book is that of the sovereign hand of God manifesting itself in His providential care over His dearly loved children and bringing about all that He has purposed in the affairs of time. He tells us that Joseph’s life ought to be for us a story of great encouragement and reassurance as we make our way in the walk of faith.
The author tells us that in the details of his life, Joseph foreshadowed Jesus. As an example, he writes that Joseph provides a wonderful illustration of Christlike forgiveness.
The author takes us from Genesis 37:2, when Joseph was seventeen to Genesis 50, when he dies at the age of 110. Through it all, he tells us that Joseph stood the test of time. He states that one of our greatest challenges is to stand the test of time and stay the course in the Christian life. He tells us that Joseph left a wonderful legacy. He left us a record of steadfast faith in the face of extreme trial. He left us a graphic picture of forgiveness in response to bitter jealousy. He left us a wonderful testimony of generosity and kindness as repayment for cruel neglect. The author leaves us with a final challenge: what kind of legacy will we leave?
Below are 25 of my favorite quotes from the book:
- There is an important lesson here: it is virtually impossible to commit just one sin. One sin needs another to guard it from detection. You can mark it down that when you sin, you’ll sin again—especially in the area of lying.
- The center of God’s will may take us into the eye of a storm. We should not seek, therefore, to confirm God’s will by the absence of adversity.
- It takes the test of trials to make us useful to God. Some of us are not as useful as we might be, for in shunning trials we have missed God’s blessings.
- There is no ideal place to serve God except the place in which He has set you down.
- People who search for ideal circumstances forget that all that is ideal and perfect is saved for heaven. They launch forth on a journey destined to end in disappointment.
- We often ask God to remove the problem from us or remove us from the problem. But most of the time what God does with His children is change their attitudes toward the circumstances in which they find themselves.
- God never calls us to an action that He does not enable us to complete.
- The most successful people I have seen, however, are the ones who are able to see the shining blessing of God in the routine experiences of life.
- For most of us, most of the time, it is true that more spiritual progress is made through failure and tears than through success and laughter.
- It is not a sin to be tempted; it is our response to temptation that leads us either down the path of righteousness or into the dead end of disobedience.
- It can take thirty years to build a reputation, and only five minutes to ruin it.
- God tests us, but the difference between God’s testings and the devil’s temptations is this: God sets up His tests for His students to pass. The temptations of the devil are set up so that his students will fail.
- Suffering is not the unusual exception for the Christian. Therefore, we should not be surprised when we suffer unjustly.
- We need to help people understand that they cannot have a heaven without a hell, that it is intellectually implausible to have the one without the other, and that they must prepare for the day when they will stand before God and face eternal judgment.
- People can be secondary causes of God’s provision for us, but our ultimate confidence must be in Him. Anything less than this will lead us to great disappointment and pain.
- We need to understand that although our days may seem dark, and although there seems to be no potential for change, nevertheless God is working everything out in conformity with the purpose of His will. He makes everything beautiful in His time.
- God knows what is best for each of His children. We do well to wait upon Him, for He will never give us anything too soon, nor will anything ever arrive too late.
- It is in the routines of life that real gains are made, real joy is found, and the reality of God’s provision becomes most obvious.
- God determines what is going to happen according to His will, for His glory, and for the good of His people.
- The challenge is always this: Are men and women going to allow the Word of God to sit in judgment on their puny minds, or are they going to make their puny minds the judges of the Word of God?
- The wonderful truth of God’s providence enables us to have humility in success, for it makes us aware that all our successes are gifts from God.
- Can we kiss all our brothers and sisters, whether physical or spiritual, the way Joseph kissed his brothers? Or are we still holding grudges over things that are microscopic compared to what Joseph went through?
- Can we who have been forgiven every debt by God honestly tell Him we plan to hold a grudge against our brother and sister the rest of our lives over what might be some marginal, minimal offense?
- Forgiveness is not some little extra part of the Christian experience; it is at the very heart of it.
- The rule is always that secret sins must be confessed secretly to God, and private sins must be confessed privately to the injured party.
Why I Love the Apostle Paul by John Piper: 30 Reasons. Crossway. 208 pages. 2019
In his latest book, in thirty short chapters divided into seven parts, John Piper gives us not a comprehensive overview of the Apostle Paul’s thought, but a highly personal book. No one has taken the author deeper into the mysteries of the gospel than Paul, who wrote thirteen books of the Bible, and much of the book of Acts is about his ministry. After the Lord Jesus himself, no one has won the author’s appreciation and admiration more. His aim in the book is to commend the Apostle Paul as a trustworthy witness. He wants us to be deeply and joyfully persuaded that he is admirable and trustworthy and that what he writes is true.
Over the thirty chapters, the author tells us about the profound impact the Apostle Paul has had on his life and ministry. Among the topics included are suffering, love, contentment, killing sin, Christian freedom, community, Gospel accuracy, God’s sovereignty, imperfection, cancer, joy, the poor and Romans 8:32. You can read the book through like a normal book, or choose to read it devotionally, covering a chapter a day for thirty days.
I highlighted a number of passages in this book. Below are 20 of my favorite quotes:
- If we are going to live and die for Jesus, we must see his glory with the eyes of our hearts.
- I would rather see a man die abruptly, on his way to one last conquest, than to see him drift off course into the comforts of old age.
- I am drawn to people who suffer without murmuring. Especially when they believe in God but never get angry with him or criticize him.
- It seems to me that not murmuring is one of the rarest traits in the world. And when it is combined with a deep faith in God—who could alter our painful circumstances, but doesn’t—it has a beautiful God-trusting, God-honoring quality that makes it all the more attractive. Paul was like that.
- The truth that Paul believed about his suffering—no matter how severe—was that it came ultimately with God’s purpose, and the purpose was that Paul would trust himself less and trust God more, every moment of his life, especially as death approached.
- Christ is shown to be magnificent in our dying when we experience him as more satisfying than all the pleasures that life in this world could give.
- Paul said that Christ is magnified not instead of my being satisfied in him, but by means of my being satisfied in him.
- You cannot glorify God in your heart if your heart does not find God more satisfying than everything else.
- Genuine, Christ-exalting, Spirit-empowered, sacrificial love for people is the overflow of joy in God that expands by meeting the needs of others.
- No follower of Jesus has said more important or more explosive things about race and ethnicity than the apostle Paul.
- Jesus himself—knowing him in all his inestimable worth—was his highest glory and joy. Achievements were secondary. Jesus himself, known and enjoyed, was primary.
- God’s decisive, sovereign rule in the world and in our lives is not a hindrance but a help in doing what he calls us to do.
- What we want to see in others, and have in ourselves, is a kind of wholeness that can be blunt and forceful and corrective when necessary, but that also has a peaceful pattern of encouragement and affirmation and kindness.
- Paul embraced and expressed the sovereignty of God over all historical events and in people’s lives. And he embraced the lost world with compassion and longing.
- If God were not compassionate, he would not want to save us. If God were not sovereign, he would not be able to save us. But he is both. And because of Jesus we are saved.
- It is not essential in this life that we know how to explain the way God’s sovereignty and our responsibility fit together. It is enough to know that they do.
- Joy originates in God. It comes through Jesus his Son. And it is the fruit of his Spirit. Those who embrace Jesus as their Savior and treasure, by the power of the Spirit, for the glory of the Father, enter into that Trinitarian joy.
- My love for Paul rises not only because his joy stood firm through all his sufferings, but even more because he saw his whole ministry as a project of bringing others into the joy that he had in knowing Jesus Christ.
- Nevertheless, in spite of all this success, Paul did not boast in himself. He boasted in Christ.
- Of all the places in the Bible that provide a solid place to stand when all around you is shaking, this has been my foundation stone more than any other: He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom. 8:32)
Them: Why We Hate Each Other – And How to Heal by Ben Sasse. St. Martin’s Press. 287 pages. 2018.
While you may know Ben Sasse as a Republican United States Senator from Nebraska and that he is a huge University of Nebraska football fan, you may not know that in 1995-96, he worked with theologian Michael Horton’s CURE (Christians United for Reformation), and ACE (Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals), and that he attends a Presbyterian Church in American (PCA) church in Freemont, Nebraska, where he was born and raised.
In his second book, Sasse tells us that in the midst of extraordinary prosperity, we’re also living through a crisis. Our partisan tribalism is statistically higher than at any point since the Civil War. Americans have less and less in common, and that has day-to-day costs. Most Americans don’t have community cohesion like we used to. We don’t feel that we’re connected to our neighbors in any meaningful ways. We don’t feel like we’re part of something bigger. Our communities are collapsing, and people are feeling more isolated, adrift, and purposeless than ever before. We’re richer and better-informed and more connected—and unhappier and more isolated and less fulfilled. We are in a period of unprecedented upheaval. Community is collapsing, anxiety is building, and we’re distracting ourselves with artificial political hatreds. That can’t endure—and if it does, America won’t.
He covers a wide variety of subjects in this book, including our rootlessness and loss of community, the impact of the digital revolution on our jobs and families, cable news networks, smartphones and social media, politics and civics, and ultimately solutions to our problems.
The first third of this book is about the collapse of the local tribes that give us true, meaningful identity—family, workplace, and neighborhood. The second part discusses some of our cultural fights and the third part of the book asks what we can do about it.
The author served as a college president for five years, but he doesn’t believe that a college education is necessary for a thoughtful, meaningful, or happy life. However, he states that there is an increasingly clear correlation between a college diploma and being among the “winners” in contemporary America. He references the “Success Sequence” (finish high school, get a job, and get married before having children—in that order), which if you follow, you won’t be poor. But if you fail to follow the “Success Sequence”, it’s 50/50 that you (and your kids) will be poor.
He writes that the primary form of social capital is family. A particularly formidable knot of challenges for America’s future involves the rapidly growing number of children whose fathers are only intermittently present, or absent altogether. He tells us that If we are going to make any lasting difference in the lives of our neighbors struggling in poverty—or wrestling with loneliness—we must tell the truth about the irreplaceable role of family.
A key part of the book is our lack of permanence, in where we live, how long we stay at our jobs, etc. He tells us that community can be difficult, messy and it doesn’t fall into place like on the sitcoms. But in community, unlike on Netflix, you can put down the roots that will help to give life meaning and richness. He tells us that the only community that exists is this one, here and now. But we have to choose to embrace it.
One reason for our ever-growing chasm is that almost all of us are convinced that our position is 100 percent right, and the other side is 100 percent wrong. People work hard to confirm their biases, not to challenge them. He tells us that we are more interested in coherence—or internal consistency in our worldview—than to correspondence with the facts we encounter in the world beyond our heads. In simple terms he tells us that we are biased. He writes about “motivated reasoning,” which describes our tendency to accept what we want to be true much more easily than we accept apparent new “facts” that we don’t want to be true. He states that many among us on both sides of the aisle now demand not factual accuracy but partisan loyalty. It’s us versus them, they believe. It’s Fox News versus MSNBC.
He writes that we yearn to belong. We want to be part of a tribe, to have roots. We’re meant to be for things and people, but absent that, most of us will choose to be against things and people, together, rather than to be alone. Not only do Americans no longer know their neighbors, but in many cases, they simply don’t know many people who aren’t like them. Our isolation has deprived us of healthy local tribes with whom we share values and goals and ways of life that uplift us, and so we fall into “anti-tribes,” defined by what we’re against rather than what we’re for.
He writes about the media, indicating that there is among many of his constituents a deep sense that the national media no longer represents them. He writes of “polititainment”, an example of which is the Sean Hannity model of stoking outrage, and tells of Hannity at first endorsing him as a candidate, and then three years later, going on the air to announce that he was rescinding his endorsement. Hannity called supporting Sasse one of the biggest mistakes of his career. Sadly, that author he writes that Vladimir Putin loves cable news and the divides it helps to solidify in the American soul.
He writes about technology disrupting an industry and the impact on jobs. Most jobs will begin to look significantly different in the future. The digital revolution is calling for a reordering. In addition to impacts on housing, higher education and job retraining will also be restructured amid shorter-duration freelance jobs; retirement will be rethought as people look for second mountains to climb as life expectancy arcs upward. He tells us that we need to begin now to build the arrangements—and the habits—adequate to a mobile world.
He writes that a significant quantity of research demonstrates that smartphones and social media are making us considerably lonelier and, consequently, less happy. Our new technologies are enabling us to live wider but shallower—with more at our fingertips, but with less enduring meaning.
He writes that we will never understand why our opponents act the way they do if we refuse to listen—really listen—to their arguments. Deep, enduring change does will not come through legislation or elections. Meaningful change comes as individual minds are persuaded and hearts changed. He asks what if those people we dislike so much are more like us than we care to admit? And what if there’s a higher-order bond that connects us that’s prior to and more important than the lower-order schisms that divide us? He suggests that we try to persuade each other, not silence each other as that is how people committed to dignity treat each other. He writes that we must approach our opponents in these debates as people created with dignity—and we must demand that both we and they dig in as sincere, fellow countrymen, rather than as enemies to be trolled.
He writes that the good news is the American idea can be renewed. But it won’t happen unless enough of us decide to abandon the path we’re on. We have plenty of actual enemies looking to harm us, so we don’t need to add to their ranks. What is needed is for people from both sides to agree that political and policy divides are not our primary identities or our primary divides. As Americans, we need to agree first on the universal dignity of all people, before we descend to the more divisive but less important debates about the prudential use of the levers of government power. He tells us that ultimately, it’s not legislation we’re lacking, it’s the tight bonds that give our lives meaning, happiness, and hope. It’s the habits of heart and mind that make us neighbors and friends.
I highlighted a number of passages as I read this thought-provoking book. Below are 10 of my favorite quotes:
- It doesn’t matter whether a person is a CEO with her corner office or a server with his name embroidered on the restaurant-issued apron, a job gives us a place in the world.
- Work, properly understood, is the sacred practice of offering up our talents for the service of others.
- Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat didn’t create our darker impulses; they simply revealed them.
- Humility is a universal American calling.
- The fact that college campuses, once the cornerstone of free expression and open debate, are now among the most intellectually intolerant spaces in America should concern us deeply.
- Nothing here on earth will be fully satisfying. But to the degree that we’re going to find anything that satisfies on this side of the afterlife, it’s going to be in the relationships with the people with whom we share work, experiences, suffering, and love.
- We should stop holding the candidates on “our side” to lower standards than we expect from our opponents. This shouldn’t be hard. Lying matters, and truth matters.
- Be skeptical of any politician whose statements frame our primary struggle in terms of one group of Americans versus another.
- One of the core problems with our public life together is that we’re constantly failing to distinguish between politics and civics. Politics is about the use of power—how it is acquired and who wields it. Obviously, politics matters. But civics matters more. Civics is about who we are as a people.
- Our identity cannot be found in anti-tribes. It cannot be found in politics.
The New Man: Becoming a Man After God’s Heart by Dan Doriani. P&R Publishing. 280 pages. 2015
This is a revised and updated edition of the 2001 book The Life of a God-Made Man: Becoming a Man After God’s Heart by a respected pastor and seminary professor. In this book, he tells us that he will spend more time exploring Bible texts than typical men’s books do. He also will focus on character over technique and law. Instead of starting with rules and guidelines for godly living, he begins the book by considering the nature of God.
The author tells us that it is important, at this moment in Western culture, to know what it means to be a man and to act like one. He tells us that beyond doubt, Scripture instructs men to act like men, to act in ways that fit their gender. He discusses four models of masculinity, and then proposes God himself as the model of godly masculinity. God’s person and work is the model for the book as the author looks at man in marriage, fatherhood, work, leadership, friendship, etc. The author tells us that the man after God’s heart lives by grace, not laws; by character, not techniques; in short, by the pattern of the living God.
The book includes helpful “Discussion Questions” at the end of each chapter, making this a good book to read and discuss with other men.
This is a serious book about what it means to be a man after God’s own heart. It is not one that will give you “5 Tips to Be a Better Husband”, for example. Read it slowly and ponder the wisdom on its pages.
Below are some of my takeaways from the book:
A Man and His Marriage: Companionship
- God designed marriage to be the prime source of companionship for adults.
- The root of the decline of marriage is the loss of a Christian concept of love.
- A healthy marriage will manifest three faces of love, labeled by the Greek words agape, philia, and eros.
- The family is a society of sinners. A Christian marriage is the union of two redeemed sinners, not two angels.
- Godly husbands see Christ’s love as their pattern.
A Man and His Children
- “Successful” parenthood depends on who you are, more than the techniques you know.
- A man can master every method, but without love, he will fail as a father. Conversely, if a father loves his children, he can commit many minor managerial mistakes and succeed at parenting.
- God is the source and model for every family, every form of “fatherhood”
- Every aspect of God’s character teaches fathers how to live, but some are weightier than others. Love is certainly paramount
- Alongside love, justice, mercy, and faithfulness form the core of godly parenthood.
- To develop the spiritual life of their children, parents must first develop their own.
- Our supreme hope lies in the grace of Christ, not parenting techniques.
- The Bible is pro-child and consistent Christians must be pro-child.
A Man and His Friends
- First, everyone needs companionship. Second, the friendship of God manifests helpful presence and self-disclosure. These are the core of friendship.
- On the whole, women form more constructive friendships than men, for they care about them more. Men, by comparison, are careless about friendships, forming them almost accidentally.
- Since men enter into friendships through a shared task, their relationships are typically one-dimensional.
- Genuine friendship may begin as a one-dimensional relationship. But something happens and the next dimension opens.
- If we refuse friendships with the opposite sex, we cut off the insights, skills, and excellence of half the human race.
- God has ordained, blessed, and modeled friendship as part of a good life.
A Man and His Work
- We cannot see the results of our work, but God can and he gives us roles that let us serve our neighbors.
- All honest work is dignified if we love our neighbors and strive to serve God in it.
- We must not think that “sacred” work—church work—pleases God more than “secular” work.
- The Lord is pleased with faithful work in every calling.
- Because God works and intended mankind to work, even before sin entered creation, we should have a guarded optimism toward labor.
- Work is not burdensome when you do what you love, for people you love.
- The noblest thing we can do is to serve the Lord faithfully in the place God assigns us.
- Before God, the highest position anyone can hold is the one to which God gifted and summoned him.
- Every job has its burdens, but we tolerate them if we spend most of our time using our chief gifts.
- There are good reasons to work hard: rare skills, love of the work itself, or love of the cause it serves. But all too often our overwork is sinful, driven by slavery to false gods.
A Man as Leader
- Jesus demonstrated that true leaders serve—and suffer.
- Like Jesus, leaders will be blamed for things they did not do wrong.
- Leaders suffer pointless envy and irrational hate.
- Leadership is hard. The work never ends.
- Beside its interest in servant leadership, the Bible stresses character-based leadership. The key text for that is 1 Timothy 3, Paul’s description of a church elder.
- Good leaders are strongest in times of testing. They are ready to fight where the battle rages. They engage the issues of the hour. When crises arise, they lead the way when others get lost.
- Leaders prove themselves publicly by their exemplary character.
- When people know their leaders are willing to put them first, it becomes easier to follow.
- The best way to find new leaders is to locate people who are already leading quietly but effectively in a little noticed corner.
- Because Christians claim a higher standard, our leaders must have a good reputation.
- What an elder needs most is the desire to serve.
- Gifts are important, but for the Christian leader there is no substitute for godliness and a willingness to work just where the work needs to be done.
A Man and His Wealth
- A day of reckoning, before God, will arrive. We will account for the use of our material wealth as well as our God-given capacities—of mind, energy, and skills.
- Our vision of the good life owes more to society than to Scripture.
- The cure for the malady of materialism is generosity toward God, starting with the heart, then moving to actions.
- More than laws, we need godly goals for our careers. We should offer our work to God, governing our corner of creation for him, using the gifts he bestows. One day we will stand before the Lord and render an account.
- We must guard against overwork, organizing our life and career so we have time for family, friends, church, and godly pleasures. We must refuse to work endlessly, simply to support expensive tastes.
- People who live to get rich love this world, not God.
- If our gifts and efforts lead to riches, more or less by accident, praise God. But we should not choose a career just to get rich (James 4:1–4; 1 Tim. 6:6–10).
- Generous people love to give. They taste the splendor of Christ’s kingdom, its world-changing power. They see Jesus restraining the work of the evil one. They delight to support God’s work in areas where money can make a difference.
- This age keeps its eye on money, but the man after God’s heart keeps his eye on God and his kingdom.
- Beyond the tithe, he sets the generosity of Jesus as his model.
A Man and His Body: A Proper Concern for Our Flesh and Blood
- God wants us to enjoy bodily life.
- The principle for the right use of God’s bounty is simple: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31 ESV).
A Man and His Body: Living Faithfully in Our Skin
- Scripture doesn’t require fitness, but bodily strength is good and it is normal and wise to pursue it.
- The right use of the body includes the right use of sleep.
A Man and His Play
- Play has many lessons to teach us, but that is not why we play. We play for the fun of it.
- While the Lord’s Day remains first a day of worship and rest, it also becomes a good day to play.
- Play, like rest, is a divine gift.
The Glory and the Misery of Man
- The hunger for excellence, even glory, rests deep in our hearts.
- The drive to excel testifies that God designed us for glory.
- God prizes faithfulness, not success.
- The essence of Christian living is knowing God, trusting him, and conforming to him, not rule keeping.
The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love & Learning, Worship and Work by Steven Garber. IVP Books. 136 Pages. 2020
Steven Garber was the speaker at my 2014 Covenant Seminary graduation ceremony. After that, my wife and I read and discussed his excellent book Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good. This book also addresses the subject of vocation, which is also a passion of mine. The new book is comprised of short essays, each beginning with a photograph the author has taken related to the essay. The author tells us that this book is deeper than Visions of Vocation, and a deeper reflection on one question: “What does it mean to see seamlessly?”
Living a seamless, or coherent life, and vocation are key themes in this book, which is written so well. I often read the book over a cup of coffee sitting by the fireplace. The author addresses subjects as diverse as Bono (U2), his work with a variety of organizations such as Mars, Elevation Burger and the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation, friendship, movies such as The Reverent and Unbroken, books such as The Hobbit, and a number of places he has lived in or visited.
I would recommend reading this short book slowly, savoring it. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:
- To see the whole of life as important to God, to us, and to the world—the deepest and truest meaning of vocation—is to understand that our longing for coherence is born of our truest humanity, a calling into the reality that being human and being holy are one and the same life.
- But what if justice and mercy, honesty and integrity, truthfulness from beginning to end were the contours of our lives and labors? What if we decided that good business necessarily requires a more complex bottom line, a rethinking of the very purposes of business? What if doing well and doing good were a seamless reality? What if personal convictions were integrally woven into public practices?
- We yearn for things to be made right, for life to be as it could be, as it might be, as it should be—as it is supposed to be.
- Visions of vocation have to become flesh. They have to be worked out and lived into among friends, in neighborhoods, in small towns and big cities,
- The words vocation and occupation more often than not thread their way through my conversations, and I do my best to make clear that there is a difference and why the difference is important. The one is a word about the deepest things, the longest truths about each of us: what we care about, what motivates us, why we get up in the morning. The other is a word about what we do day by day, occupying particular responsibilities and relationships along the way as we live into our vocations. They aren’t the same word, and understanding that matters.
- Created to work, we are to find meaning in our work. But also, we are able to distort the meaning of our work, imagining that our work means more or less than it ought. Getting it right matters because work matters.
- The most interesting questions, the most important questions always are: Who or what is our reason for being? Why do we do the things we do? What does it all mean?
- Our vocations grow out of our beliefs about the way things are, about what matters and what doesn’t matter.
- Because vocation is a rich and complex word and is never the same word as occupation, we are always more than our work, though our work matters.
- Sometimes, sometimes, heaven meets earth in and through our work, and it becomes almost sacramental—and then sometimes we curse the very work of work. We are our best and our worst at work.
- Vocation is the longer, deeper story of someone’s life, our longings and our choices and our passions that run through life like a deep river; occupation is what we do day by day, the relationships and responsibilities we occupy along the way of our lives, more like the currents in a river that give it visible form.
- Most of the time getting a job isn’t so hard, but seeing our lives as a vocation is harder.
- We long for what we do to grow out of who we are, for our occupation(s) to be rooted in our vocation. That is the hope of everyone’s heart.
- We keep stumbling, longing for more coherent lives, where what we confess to believe looks like the way we actually live, where our deepest hearts are seamlessly worked out in the responsibilities and relationships of our lives.
- Vocations are not occupations, though they are integrally woven together. To know the difference and the difference it makes is critical, and much of the grief we experience is born of mistaking one for the other.
- This is what vocation is for everyone everywhere, a calling to care about the way the world is—even dreaming dreams about what might be—and working through the days of our lives at what could and even should be.
- We are disposed to dualism, to carving up our consciences to allow us to believe one thing and behave as if another thing is true.
- Grace, always amazing, slowly, slowly makes its way in and through us, giving us eyes to see that a good life is one marked by the holy coherence between what we believe and how we live, personally and publicly—in our worship as well as our work—where our vision of vocation threads its way through all that we think and say and do.
- Life is meant to be coherent—but we don’t experience it that way.
- People who like being married, who over time find honest happiness in marriage are most of all friends—good friends, true and trusted friends.
- Over time, marriage is not a long date. Instead it is a long friendship, a dear and unique friendship, a completely unique friendship.
Live in Grace, Walk in Love: A 365-Day Journey by Bob Goff. Thomas Nelson. 432 pages. 2019
I have enjoyed Bob Goff’s books Love Does, Everybody Always and even his children’s book Love Does for Kids. My wife and I saw him speak a few months ago, and he is every bit as authentic (and funny) as he is in his books.
This book of daily devotional readings picks right from his other books with his distinctive accessible writing that is practical, biblical and inspirational. Each reading begins with a short scripture passage and ends with a question to help you apply the reading. Each reading only takes a few minutes. This would be an excellent book to not only read for yourself, but also to give copies to friends and family members.
I’ve enjoyed adding Live in Grace, Walk in Love to my daily devotional readings.
Note: my only “complaint” is that each reading is numbered. For example, as I write this, today’s reading is 293. I much prefer that each reading be given a date, such as October 20, but that is a small complaint.
If you have enjoyed Bob’s earlier books, you’ll love Live in Grace, Walk in Love.
Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making by Andrew Peterson. B&H Books. 224 pages. 2019
Andrew Peterson is a talented singer, songwriter and author. I heard parts of this book, which I couldn’t put down, and to which he refers to as a “barrage of thoughts and anecdotes” at his breakout sessions at the 2018 and 2019 Sing! Getty Worship Conference in Nashville. He writes that the book is a glimpse into his own faltering journey as a songwriter, storyteller, and Christian. He calls it a love song about the life that God has given him, and it’s one of my favorite books of the year.
As you read this book you feel like a friend is casually talking to you. The book includes biography – he refers a lot to failure, being a poor student and not applying himself, reading fantasy and science fiction, attending Bible College, being dropped by his record label, and getting a break by opening for the band Caedmon’s Call. He writes about the influence of Rich Mullins, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, the Rabbit Room community he is a part of, researching his family ancestry, the now 20 year Behold the Lamb of God tour, moving to a woodsy corner of Nashville with his wife and three children and they refer to as “the Warren” and where he built a stone wall, gardening, beekeeping, as well as the creative (songwriting, book writing, painting) process.
He tells us that we are all creative and that there is a lot of similarity in process no matter what our discipline is. He references a number of books and includes them (and others), on a helpful “Reading List” included at the end of the book.
I highlighted a number of passages as I read this book. Below are 15 of my favorite quotes:
- That calling, as I understand it, is to use whatever gifts I’ve been given to tell the truth as beautifully as I can.
- This is part of my calling—to make known the heart of God.
- The best thing you can do is to keep your nose to the grindstone, to remember that it takes a lot of work to hone your gift into something useful, and that you have to learn to enjoy the work—especially the parts you don’t enjoy. Maybe that’s the answer to a successful career.
- Since we were made to glorify God, worship happens when someone is doing exactly what he or she was made to do.
- The Christian’s calling, in part, is to proclaim God’s dominion in every corner of the world—in every corner of our hearts, too.
- If you wait until the conditions are perfect, you’ll never write a thing.
- Once again, Jesus was right all along. We are most ourselves when we’re thinking least about ourselves.
- Being a writer is more like being an architect or a soldier or a nurse than most people realize. It’s a craft that you’re constantly learning, a craft that is shaped by a bit of talent in submission to a great deal of work.
- Serving the work doesn’t mean we don’t have an agenda, but that the agenda works in partnership with the wild, creative spirit—not as an overlord. Agenda is bad when it usurps the beauty.
- You have to remember that the God the song is about knows more than you do about songwriting.
- The creative act is profoundly spiritual, and therefore profoundly mysterious.
- Selectivity means choosing what not to say. It means aiming at the bull’s-eye. It means making sure the song is about one specific thing.
- If you want to be an artist, you have to cultivate artistic discernment.
- Aesthetic discernment also drives you to work that much harder when you’re making your own art.
- That’s community. They look you in the eye and remind you who you are in Christ. They reiterate your calling when you forget what it is. They step into the garden and help you weed it, help you to grow something beautiful.
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell. Little, Brown and Company. 400 pages. 2019
I always enjoy Malcolm Gladwell’s work, whether it is his books or his excellent podcast Revisionist History. I learned a lot of interesting information in this book, but I didn’t get as many practical takeaways as I had hoped.
The author begins and ends the book with the account of a tragic 2015 traffic stop in Prairie View, Texas, in which Sandra Bland, an African American, was ultimately arrested and jailed by Brian Encinia, a white police officer. Bland would commit suicide in her cell three days later. Talking to Strangers is an attempt to understand what really happened by the side of the highway that day in rural Texas. The author tells us that the death of Sandra Bland is what happens when a society does not know how to talk to strangers. He states that today we are now thrown into contact all the time with people whose assumptions, perspectives, and backgrounds are different from our own.
Each of the chapters in this book is devoted to understanding a different aspect of the stranger problem. You may be familiar with many of the examples, as they are taken from the news. In all of these cases, the parties involved relied on a set of strategies to translate one another’s words and intentions. And in each case, something went very wrong. The author aims to understand those strategies—analyze them, critique them, figure out where they came from, find out how to fix them.
Gladwell looks at stories as diverse as Cortes and Montezuma struggling to understand each other through multiple layers of translators. CIA officers who could not make sense of their spies, Neville Chamberlain misreading Hitler’s intentions, judges deciding whether to issue bail and how a computer made better decisions than the judges, a spy for Cuba who was a rising star in a U.S. intelligence agency, Penn State University football coach Jerry Sandusky, Bernie Madoff, Michigan State University sports doctor Larry Nassar, Amanda Knox, who was wrongfully convicted of murder, the ability to give assent to sexual activity after having consumed a large quantity of alcohol, trying to get a terrorist to give up their secrets, suicidal poets and the Kansas City police crime strategy.
Gladwell tells us that we think we can easily see into the hearts of others based on the flimsiest of clues. We jump at the chance to judge strangers. But we would never do that to ourselves, of course. We are nuanced and complex and enigmatic. But the stranger is easy. However, he writes that if he can convince the reader of one thing in this book it is that strangers are not easy.
He spends a good deal of time looking at the ideas of psychologist Tim Levine, who Gladwell writes, has thought as much about the problem of why we are deceived by strangers as anyone in social science. The point of Levine’s research was to try to answer one of the biggest puzzles in human psychology: why are we so bad at detecting lies? Levine states that we have a “default to truth” – our operating assumption is that the people we are dealing with are honest. We start by believing. And we stop believing only when our doubts and misgivings rise to the point where we can no longer explain them away. Belief is not the absence of doubt. You believe someone because you don’t have enough doubts about them.
Transparency is another topic that the book looks at. This is the idea that people’s behavior and demeanor—the way they represent themselves on the outside—provides an authentic and reliable window into the way they feel on the inside. It is the second of the crucial tools we use to make sense of strangers. When we don’t know someone, or can’t communicate with them, or don’t have the time to understand them properly, we believe we can make sense of them through their behavior and demeanor. When we confront a stranger, we have to substitute an idea—a stereotype—for direct experience. And that stereotype is wrong all too often. We have built a world that systematically discriminates against a class of people who, through no fault of their own, violate our ideas about transparency.
Gladwell writes that the fact that strangers are hard to understand doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. But the harder we work at getting strangers to reveal themselves, the more elusive they become. Thus, we need to accept that the search to understand a stranger has real limits, and that we will never know the whole truth. We have to be satisfied with something short of that. The right way to talk to strangers is with caution and humility.
After returning to the Bland/Encinia confrontation, the author gives us a few takeaways:
- We could start by no longer penalizing one another for defaulting to truth. To assume the best about another is the trait that has created modern society.
- We should also accept the limits of our ability to decipher strangers.
Below are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
- Why can’t we tell when the stranger in front of us is lying to our face?
- How is it that meeting a stranger can sometimes make us worse at making sense of that person than not meeting them?
- Most of us aren’t very good at lie detection. Lies are most often detected only after the fact—weeks, months, sometimes years later.
- We tend to judge people’s honesty based on their demeanor. The people we all get right are the ones who match—whose level of truthfulness happens to correspond with the way they look. We are bad lie detectors in those situations when the person we’re judging is mismatched.
- Many of those who study alcohol no longer consider it an agent of disinhibition. They think of it as an agent of myopia, meaning that alcohol’s principal effect is to narrow our emotional and mental fields of vision. It is striking how underappreciated the power of myopia is.
- Displacement assumes that when people think of doing something as serious as committing suicide, they are very hard to stop. Blocking one option isn’t going to make much of a difference.
- Coupling is the idea that behaviors are linked to very specific circumstances and conditions.
- We do not understand the importance of the context in which the stranger is operating. When you confront the stranger, you have to ask yourself where and when you’re confronting the stranger—because those two things powerfully influence your interpretation of who the stranger is.
- Coupling forces us to see the stranger in her full ambiguity and complexity.
- There is something about the idea of coupling—of the notion that a stranger’s behavior is tightly connected to place and context—that eludes us.
- Because we do not know how to talk to strangers, what do we do when things go awry with strangers? We blame the stranger.
Something Needs to Change: A Call to Make Your Life Count in a World of Urgent Need by David Platt. Multnomah. 224 pages. 2019
In Something Needs to Change, you get exactly what you would expect out of a David Platt book – to be challenged biblically to get out of your comfort zone and take action. He takes a different approach in the writing of this book, one of the best I’ve read this year. He uses an experience – a trek through multiple trips with a few men on Himalayan trails – rather than basing the book on his sermons. On his trips, he came face to face with men, women, and children in urgent spiritual (those who have never heard of Jesus), and physical (illness, disease, hunger, trafficking), need, and tries to understand what it all means for his life. He knows that it must mean something, as certainly he’s not supposed to see and hear these things and then go on with business as usual in his life. I experienced the same feelings as I read this book about these urgent spiritual and physical needs.
In the book, we follow the author and his friends on their trek as they see faces and touch people. The region that he travels to includes about nine million people. Out of that nine million, there are probably less than one hundred followers of Jesus. He writes that the reality is that most of the people have never even heard of Jesus. The area is the birthplace of both Hinduism and Buddhism. Throughout the book, the author shares scripture from Luke’s Gospel that he was reading on his trek, along with his journaling. Because the book is intended to be an experience on the Himalayan trails, the author includes a few questions for reflection at the end of each day of the trek to help the reader make the most of their own journey.
The author addresses honest questions he has as a pastor as he experiences the trek. The world, and his life in it, make no sense to him. He knows that there is a God, and he knows He is in control of all things, but why has he received such blessing when so many others haven’t? He realizes that what the villages and the people in them need most is the gospel. They also need the church in them, but not an American version of church; they need a biblical version of church.
The author prays that God will help him do whatever He wants him to do with all He has given him, a prayer that we could all pray. He asks the reader what if each of us really considered all the ways we might play a unique part in the spread of the gospel where it has not yet gone. A challenging question is what should we do with the wealth and privilege we have. He tells us that ignorance of the poor and of the opportunities we have to help the poor is no longer possible. Neither is indifference.
He tells us that the book has missed the mark if our lives end up looking just like it did before we read it. If we know that people are suffering both physically and spiritually like this, then we are accountable before God for what we do (or don’t do) in response. He writes that God has created our lives to count in a world of urgent need.
The author concludes the book with a challenge:
- Work Hard to Help Well Amid Earthly Suffering
- Work Hardest to Keep People from Eternal Suffering
- Be the Church God Calls Us to Be
- Run the Race God Calls You to Run
He encourages us to live with a holy sense of urgency, as if today could be our last. He challenges us that for Jesus’s sake, to let gospel reality in our heads fuel gospel fervency in our hearts that leads to gospel urgency in our lives. He concludes with the question “What something needs to change in our lives to effect change with the hope of Jesus in a world of urgent spiritual and physical need?”
Below are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:
- God didn’t design the gospel of Jesus to be confined to our minds and mouths in the church, yet disconnected from our emotions and actions in the world.
- We need to dare to come face to face with desperate need in the world around us and ask God to do a work deep within us that we could never manufacture, manipulate, or make happen on our own.
- God is calling me to new heights of love for him and others. To a kind of love that goes beyond all my religious learning or sense of religious responsibility. To a kind of love only God can create. A kind of love that causes you to change the plans you might have had for your life or your family or your future. A kind of costly, uncomfortable love that’s neither complacent nor content to protect yourself from the needs of those around you.
- These villages and the people in them need the church. The church as God has designed it to be. A people fearlessly holding on to God’s Word while selflessly sacrificing to share and show God’s love amid need around them. This kind of church can change the world!
- Would you and I be content with belonging to a community that is simply committed to seeking God, loving each other, and sharing the good news of God’s love with the world around us no matter what it costs us? Isn’t this the essence of the church according to God’s design?
- Devotion to Jesus means denial of oneself and death to one’s thoughts, desires, plans, and dreams. According to Jesus, following him means making him your entire life.
- The life of a Christian is always costly—for people who are actually following Christ.
- One of the greatest needs not just in the church in the Himalayas but in the place where I live is for us to open up our Bibles with fresh, unfiltered eyes and ask, “Are we really doing church the way this Book describes it?”
- You are in your job, your school, your neighborhood, or your apartment complex with the gifts, skills, abilities, and resources you possess by divine design. God has sovereignly given you unique opportunities for the spread of gospel hope in the world around you. Open your eyes to opportunities you have to use your time, your money, and your talents to spread the gospel where it hasn’t gone and to serve people who desperately need to see and feel God’s love face to face.
5 Minutes in Church History: An Introduction to the Stories of God’s Faithfulness in the History of the Church by Stephen J. Nichols. Reformation Trust Publishing. 148 pages. 2019
This book is based on the author’s popular podcast of the same name, with the chapters originally being episodes on the podcast. The book offers a series of postcards of people, places, events, artifacts, dates and ideas. The forty short chapters are divided equally over the following categories:
- The Early Church
- The Middle Ages
- The Reformation
- The Modern Age
The book contains chapters on some familiar subjects – Spurgeon, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Edwards, for example, as well as some that you might not expect – the catacombs, the Bible that Shakespeare used, Robinson Crusoe’s conversion and the relationship between Ben Franklin and George Whitefield. One chapter that I particularly enjoyed was on cathedrals, reading this shortly after visiting a few of the great cathedrals of Great Britain.
I love history, particularly church history, and really enjoyed this short book. I’m hoping that the author will make a series of these books.
A Company of Heroes: Portraits from the Gospel’s Global Advance by Tim Keesee. Crossway. 284 pages. 2019
The author is the founder and executive director of Frontline Missions International. I’ve enjoyed and appreciated his excellent ten-part video series Dispatches from the Front. Much of this book has the feel of those videos as he travels around the world to visit believers. These believers are heroes to him, and they should be to us as well. They trusted him to tell their stories despite the risks they face as they live on mission in hard places. He has shared jungle paths, desert roads, and city streets on five continents with these believers. They are heroes for the ways in which they magnify the grace and power of the risen Christ. They are foot soldiers in the long campaign as Christ builds his church across the centuries and among all peoples. The author writes that every time he goes to another corner of the world and sees the church growing and the gospel changing lives, his view of God gets bigger.
The author also introduces us to some of his heroes from the past. Some of those heroes are his father and mother, Pastor Frank Washburn, Amy Carmichael and William Carey. He writes that whether well-known or unknown, past or present, these stories are important reminders that the gospel does not only reach across the globe, but it also spans generations and centuries. The ones he writes about in this book are those whose lives and impact he’s had the opportunity to trace during his travels. The stories that we hear about come from the author’s journals of his travels to places such as Jerusalem, China, Mongolia, Ethiopia, Turkey, Salt Lake City, Utah, Oxford, England, Philippines, Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos.
The people he writes about are ordinary men and women who have an extraordinary Savior. Their stories of courage and perseverance are both heartbreaking and encouraging. I highly recommend this book for all believers.
Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People by Bob Goff. Thomas Nelson. 237 pages. 2018
This is Bob’s Goff’s second book. I read it in just a few days, and as soon as I finished it, I immediately downloaded his first one, Love Does. I enjoyed this book that much. I didn’t want to put it down.
The book is made up of short chapters which contain compelling stories of some of his friends and what they have taught him about extravagant love and acceptance.
The author seems like an incredible guy, a guy I would like to meet. I did get to hear him speak a few months ago at a local fundraiser. He is a lawyer, a diplomat for the Republic of Uganda, a pilot, teaches classes at a university, and has an office at Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland. And I’m sure I’m leaving out a lot of other things about him. He writes that while some people have bucket lists of things they’ve always wanted to do, he doesn’t. He wants to do everything. He tells us that it’s given him a lot of comfort knowing we’re all rough drafts of the people we’re still becoming.
In this book, he covers a variety of topics around the subject of love, stating “What Jesus told His friends can be summed up in this way: He wants us to love everybody, always—and start with the people who creep us out. The truth is, we probably creep them out as much as they do us.” He wants us to become love. Among the subjects he covers in the book are loving difficult people, loving our enemies, and those we don’t agree with. He writes that we make loving people a lot more complicated than Jesus did. He tells us to live without fear and not play it safe. He tells us to build a kingdom, not a castle and to care about people without having an agenda, and most of all how to love people like Jesus did.
I highlighted a number of passages as I read through the book. Below are 25 great quotes from the book:
- There’s a difference between good judgment and living in judgment. The trick is to use lots of the first and to go a little lighter on the second.
- What I’m learning about love is that we have to tackle a good amount of fear to love people who are difficult.
- He wants us to love the people near us and love the people we’ve kept far away. To do this, He wants us to live without fear.
- Find someone you think is wrong, someone you disagree with, someone who isn’t like you at all, and decide to love that person the way you want Jesus to love you.
- Instead of telling people what they want, we need to tell them who they are. This works every time. We’ll become in our lives whoever the people we love the most say we are.
- He won’t love us more or less based on how we act, and He’s more interested in our hearts than all the things we do.
- He said He wanted us to build a kingdom, and there’s a big difference between building a castle and building a kingdom. You see, castles have moats to keep creepy people out, but kingdoms have bridges to let everyone in. Castles have dungeons for people who have messed up, but kingdoms have grace.
- Loving people means caring without an agenda. As soon as we have an agenda, it’s not love anymore.
- People who are becoming love keep it real about who they are right now, while living in constant anticipation about who God’s helping them become.
- Our lives will never be about Jesus if we keep making everything about ourselves.
- Loving people the way Jesus did is always great theology.
- What I’ve come to learn so far about my faith is Jesus never asked anyone to play it safe. We were born to be brave. There’s a difference between playing it safe and being safe.
- Loving people we don’t understand or agree with is just the kind of beautiful, counterintuitive, risky stuff people who are becoming love do.
- God doesn’t like us more when we succeed or less when we fail. He delights in our attempts. He gave each of us different abilities too.
- It was a backward economy Jesus talked about. If they wanted to be a good leader, they would need to be an even better follower.
- God isn’t always leading us to the safest route forward but to the one where we’ll grow the most.
- God didn’t promise us a safe life. Instead, He said He would give us a dangerous, courageous, and purposeful one if we’ll take Him at His word and stay engaged.
- Loving people the way Jesus did means living a life filled with constant interruptions.
- We all encounter difficulties. It’s what we do next that defines us.
- Many of us think of our big mistakes as disqualifying us; God sees them as preparing us.
- Our problem following Jesus is we’re trying to be a better version of us, rather than a more accurate reflection of Him.
- Jesus said being right with Him meant loving people who got things wrong.
- Loving people the way Jesus did means being constantly misunderstood. People who are becoming love don’t care. They will do whatever it takes to reach whoever is hurting.
- Even when we feel like we can’t muster the strength and humility to love our enemies, the truth is we can. If you do this, I can promise two things will happen. First, it will be messy. The second thing is just as true: you’ll grow.
- Don’t just love the people who are easy to love; go love the difficult ones. If you do this, Jesus said you’d move forward on your journey toward being more like Him.
The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby. Zondervan. 256 pages. 2019
This was a difficult book to read, as it should be. In his “Foreword”, Lecrae writes that the author challenges us to take history seriously and account for it. He warns us that the account we are about to read is sobering and challenging. I would add to this that it is heart-breaking. I believe that it is an account that all Christians should read, especially Christian leaders. It is a well-researched survey of racism in America, what the author refers to as more than 300 years of race-based discrimination. The author tells us that this history of racism and the church shows that the story is worse than most imagine. He states that the stories in the book tell the tale of racial oppression. It is up to the reader to determine whether the weight of historical evidence proves that the American church has been complicit with racism. Although the entire history is essential to know, I focused on the author’s emphasis, that is, the role of the church in racism.
The author focus is primarily on Protestant churches, and when he talks about the “Religious Right”, he focuses on those white evangelicals that align with the Republican party. The book focuses on prominent figures, precipitous events, and well-known turning points in American history. He writes that, historically speaking, when faced with the choice between racism and equality, the American church has tended to practice a complicit Christianity rather than a courageous Christianity. Even if only a small portion of Christians committed the most notorious acts of racism, many more white Christians can be described as being complicit in creating and sustaining a racist society. Christians deliberately chose complicity with racism in the past, but the choice to confront racism remains a possibility today. The book is a call to abandon complicit Christianity and move toward courageous Christianity. The author tells us that it is time to practice courageous Christianity.
The book takes us through America’s history from early days of European contact with indigenous peoples and the first days of African slavery in North America to the current day. The author looks at reformed/evangelical heroes such as George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., evangelist Billy Graham, the “Religious Right”, “Black Lives Matter”, and President Donald Trump. He offers this sobering statement “An honest assessment of racism should acknowledge that racism never fully goes away; it just adapts to changing times and contexts.”
After providing the historical survey, the author shares practical ways to address the current state of racial injustice in America. These ways include:
- Increase awareness of the issues and people involved.
- Develop interracial relationships.
- Take down Confederate monuments.
- Learn from the Black Church.
- New seminaries.
- Freedom schools and pilgrimages.
- Make Juneteenth a national holiday.
- Participate in today’s civil rights movement.
Overall, this is an important book, and one I recommend. I do think however that the author a little harsh on Billy Graham, understanding that Graham’s focus as an evangelist was to preach the gospel, rather than being a civil rights activist (not that we can’t be both). I was also a little surprised that he didn’t mention Lecrae loosening his ties with white evangelicalism in 2017, and John Piper’s response to him, or Propaganda’s song “Precious Puritans”.
I highlighted nearly two hundred passages as I read the book. Here are 20 of my favorite quotes:
1. The refusal to act in the midst of injustice is itself an act of injustice. Indifference to oppression perpetuates oppression.
2. Race is a social construct. There is no biological basis for the superiority or inferiority of any human being based on the amount of melanin in her or his skin.
3. (Thomas) Jefferson, as with so many of his day, did not consider black people equal to white people. Few political leaders assumed the noble words of the declaration applied to the enslaved.
4. (Jonathan) Edwards and (George) Whitefield represent a supposedly moderate and widespread view of slavery. Both accepted the spiritual equality of black and white people. Both preached the message of salvation to all. Yet their concern for African slaves did not extend to advocating for physical emancipation.
5. Harsh though it may sound, the facts of history nevertheless bear out this truth: there would be no black church without racism in the white church.
6. The divide between white and black Christians in America was not generally one of doctrine. More often than not, the issue that divided Christians along racial lines related to the unequal treatment of African-descended people in white church contexts.
7. Segregation and inequality defined most of American Christianity—even in an age of great revivals.
8. Throughout the conflict (Civil War), Christians of both the Union and Confederate forces believed that God was on their side.
9. Christians in the South believed the Bible approved of slavery since the Bible never clearly condemned slavery and even provided instructions for its regulation.
10.It should give every citizen and Christian in America pause to consider how strongly ingrained the support for slavery in our country was,
11.The KKK interspersed Christianity with racism to create a nationalistic form of religion that excluded all but American-born, Protestant white men and women.
12.Many white Christians failed to unequivocally condemn lynching and other acts of racial terror. Doing so poisoned the American legal system and made Christian churches complicit in racism for generations.
13.While some Christians spoke out and denounced these lynchings (just as some Christians called for abolition), the majority stance of the American church was avoidance, turning a blind eye to the practice.
14.Compromised Christianity transcends regions. Bigotry obeys no boundaries. This is why Christians in every part of America have a moral and spiritual obligation to fight against the church’s complicity with racism.
15.Precious few Christians publicly aligned themselves with the struggle for black freedom in the 1950s and 1960s. Those who did participate faced backlash from their families, friends, and fellow Christians.
16.The responses of (Martin Luther) King Jr. and (Billy) Graham to the Civil Rights Act, and their participation or lack thereof in achieving its passage, illustrates the gulf between the approaches taken by Christian activists and Christian moderates.
17.The Christian church of the mid-twentieth century often served to reinforce racism rather than oppose it.
18. Since the 1970s, Christian complicity in racism has become more difficult to discern. It is hidden, but that does not mean it no longer exists.
19.Christian complicity with racism does not always require specific acts of bigotry. Being complicit only requires a muted response in the face of injustice or uncritical support of the status quo.
20.Christian complicity with racism in the twenty-first century looks different than complicity with racism in the past.
Embracing Your Identity in Christ: Renouncing Lies and Foolish Strategies by Robert Davis Smart. WestBow Press. 111 Pages. 2017
For many years, the author has been teaching his Identity in Christ course to groups in many places. Now, this helpful material is in book form, with this being the first book in the four-book series.
The author states that the first season of spiritual formation for the Christian, identity in Christ, is the first of four seasons of gospel transformation designed to shape us into the glorious likeness of Jesus Christ. He tells us that embracing our true identity in Christ has much more weight than we may give it at this time. It is foundational as a teenager, formational during our twenties and thirties, and progressively solidifying for all Christians until we come to cross the river of death.
In this book he teaches us to identify our Central Condemning Thought (CCT) or Core Lie. He writes that we actually cherish our core lie, because it has often functioned for a long time to give us a sense of success, but never enough. But, we eventually find ourselves surrendering to an identity of condemnation in the end. He tells us that by taking our condemning thoughts about ourselves and foolish strategies captive, and by believing the gospel each day, we are able to enjoy the stable, full, and solid Christian life Jesus promised us. A stronger sense of our Christian identity will set us up for living intentionally for Christ in midlife and pass on to others a legacy from Christ in old age.
He begins by stating that the central question of first importance for beginning a vital, lifelong, gospel-transformational process is the question of authority. Who have you given the authority to tell you just who you are? He writes that it is only God (the Gospel) that has the authority to answer the most important question of life—namely, “Who am I?” But we may ask, who is it that we have given the authority to tell us our identity? You have an identity given to you by God. God gave you a story with a plot, an evil enemy, and a happy consummation to envision. To know your story is to know how God has shaped you into a new creation in Christ with a past, a present, and a future.
The author writes about the importance of your name and ethnicity, and states that as you own your story, names, ethnicity, culture, and heritage, you will be increasingly ready to hear and believe the gospel.
Although the concept of gender being flexible is an issue currently in the news, the author writes that the uniqueness of our being male or female reaches to the core of our identities when God genders each of us at conception. He tells us that embracing our true identity according to gender, then, requires an understanding of all three aspects of glory, fall, and redemption.
A man embraces the glory of his identity when he exercises a tender strength to provide and protect, to remember and delight over, and to move toward creation and people in sacrificial love for God’s glory. A woman’s glory is her powerful ability to help others.
He writes that there is a real battle that rages in the heart of every Christian. It is an interpretation war about his or her identity. Just as Satan attacked Jesus’s identity first, so evil seeks to attack who we are before harassing what we do. He tells us that an identity built on a condemning thought can rule a Christian for many years, instead of the gospel.
He tells us that we tend to base our sense of our identities upon our Christian performance, rather than resting on the performance of another—namely, Jesus Christ’s perfect thirty-three-year life of righteousness. Once we can identify a core lie, basic fear, or CCT, then we are in a position to identify the foolish strategies we have come up with to overcome the lie. Attempting to obtain an identity we already have in Christ on the front end is surely foolish. Thus, they are foolish strategies. He tells us that we will never renounce a central condemning thought about our identities until we see how it has functioned for us to get what we wanted from others, which to some degree functioned for us to make us feel better about ourselves. He encourages us to repent of those foolish strategies that never worked and were only attempts to save our reputation, except to make us ultimately feel defeated, worn out, and vulnerable to bad habits. Then, preach the gospel to yourself and trust it is true.
Here’s an example for you of the gospel in my Identity Statement:
I am made in the image of God and bear God’s glory. I am a fallen image bearer too, and therefore a “glorious ruin”. I am pardoned of all my sins, and declared righteous in God’s sight, but only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to me and received by faith alone. Through Jesus, God the Father chose me in love to be adopted into His family to be His son. I am a saint, a holy one, a consecrated man for holiness of life and calling. By the power of the Holy Spirit I am daily dying to self & striving to be His humble servant for His glory.
He helpfully discusses the theological topics of justification (giving us a helpful “Justification Prayer” to memorize), adoption and sanctification.
The book can be read individually or as part of a group. A leader’s guide and group discussion questions are provided at the end of each chapter. If reading with a group, when you have completed the book, you are encouraged to share your identity with others.
The book includes three appendices:
- Appendix 1 Cherishing Lies about Our Identities as Ministry Leaders
- Appendix 2 Self-Hatred
- Appendix 3 Justification
I highly recommend the authors’ entire four-book series on spiritual formation, and that you begin with this book.
How to Ruin Your Life: and Starting Over When You Do by Eric Geiger. B&H Books. 208 pages. 2018
This is a timely book because many – leaders, political and entertainment figures, friends, co-workers, church members, and many people we will never hear about – have become disqualified due to what the author refers to as character implosions. An implosion is something that collapses from the inside. The falls seem sudden to outsiders, but these falls do not happen overnight.
In this book, the author uses King David’s implosion story. You know, the one who was a man after God’s own heart. The one who slayed Goliath. And the one who would later commit adultery and murder. The first half of the book is about David’s implosion. The second half is about his confession, forgiveness and restoration.
Although it is King David’s implosion story that we hear about, the author writes that we are all disqualified, save for the grace of God. None of us are above an implosion. But an implosion doesn’t need to be the end of our story. Sin doesn’t need to be tamed, but slain. It can lead to self-destruction. But God’s grace is greater than our sin.
The author tells us that there are three things that will lead to an implosion:
If you want to implode, chose isolation, independence and escapism over community.
Boredom can cause a holy discontent. Isolation and boredom weakened David’s foundation of character and were fueled by pride. Entitlement goes up when pride goes up. Pride fuels entitlement. The opposite of pride is humility. Pride was the first sin to take root in David’s heart. It is also the first sin to take root in our heart as well.
The author looks at pride in the life of King Uzziah. He tells us that unless we’re killing pride, it will kill us. Humility increases as we move closer to the Lord.
David was confronted of his sin by Nathan the prophet. He repented (Psalm 51) and was forgiven, but there were still consequences of his sin. How we respond when we are confronted about our sin reveals who we really are. We need to own our sin, repent and surrender. Then there will be forgiveness and restoration.
Some people waste their implosion, while others use it to turn to the Lord and turn their lives around. When we uncover the sin, our implosion is covered by Christ.
We continue to hear about implosions, whether in the news or in our close circle of friends and acquaintances. We should never say that that couldn’t happen to us. We can’t keep ourselves from falling. Instead we need deep dependence on the Lord.
This is a helpful and timely book. It would be a good one to read with a friend.
The Prodigal Son: An Astonishing Study of the Parable Jesus Told to Unveil God’s Grace for You by John F. MacArthur. Thomas Nelson. 240 pages. 2010
This book was originally published in 2008 as A Tale of Two Sons. It changed the way I thought about the best known of Jesus’ parables – the parable of the prodigal son – and this is one of my favorite books about it.
The author, a respected pastor, states that of all of Jesus’ parables, this one is the most richly detailed, powerfully dramatic, and intensely personal. He tells us that the central message of the parable is an urgent and sobering entreaty to hard-hearted listeners whose attitudes exactly mirrored the elder brother’s. He tells us that the lesson of the elder brother is often overlooked in many of the popular retellings, and yet it is actually the main reason Jesus told the parable.
MacArthur tells us that the central lesson of the parable is that Jesus is pointing out the stark contrast between God’s own delight in the redemption of sinners and the Pharisees’ inflexible hostility toward those same sinners. Themes included in the parable are grace, forgiveness, repentance, and the heart of God toward sinners.
The author tells us that there’s a good reason this short story pulls at the heartstrings of so many hearers – we recognize ourselves in it. For believers, the prodigal son is a reminder of who we are and how much we owe to divine grace. For those who are conscious of their own guilt but are still unrepentant, the prodigal’s life is a reminder of the wages of sin, the duty of the sinner to repent, and the goodness of God that accompanies authentic repentance. For sinners coming to repentance, the father’s welcome and costly generosity are reminders that God’s grace and goodness are inexhaustible. For unbelievers (especially those like the scribes and Pharisees, who use external righteousness as a mask for unrighteous hearts), the elder brother is a reminder that neither a show of religion nor the pretense of respectability is a valid substitute for redemption. For all of us, the elder brother’s attitude is a powerful warning, showing how easily and how subtly unbelief can masquerade as faithfulness.
The elder brother in this tale symbolizes the Pharisees. The parable is a rebuke of the attitude of the religious leaders who resented Jesus’ ministry, which was done for the joy of God. Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son primarily for the Pharisees’ benefit and as a rebuke to them. The parable demands repentance from prodigals and Pharisees. The elder brother’s most obvious characteristic is his resentment for his younger brother. But underneath that, it is clear that he has been nurturing a secret hatred for the father. Both sons were far away from the father. In the end, they both came home—but with totally different attitudes and to very different receptions. This firstborn son clearly had no affection for his younger brother, but the father was the one whom he most resented. The elder son is a perfect emblem for the Pharisees. He had no appreciation for grace because he thought he didn’t need it. But the truth is, this son was secretly much more of a rebel than the Prodigal had ever been.
MacArthur tells us that throughout Luke 15, Jesus is describing and illustrating the celebratory joy that fills heaven over the repentance of sinners. That is the single, central theme and the major lesson that ties all of Luke 15 together.
The parable ends without a conclusion, MacArthur writes that everyone who hears the story writes his or her own ending by how we respond to the kindness of God toward sinners. This is a wonderful book about a parable that you think you may know well.
New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional by Paul David Tripp. Crossway. 384 pages. 2004
Each morning, Paul Tripp tweets three gospel thoughts about the Christian faith on Twitter. His goal with the tweets is to confront and comfort people with the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He wants people to see that the grace of the gospel is not so much about changing the religious aspect of their lives, but about everything in life that defines, identifies, and motivates them. Through his daily tweets, he is calling people to see the gospel as a window through which they are to look at everything in life.
Those daily tweets inspired this book of 365 daily devotional readings, a book I am using as a part of my daily readings this year. Each day’s reading opens with one of his gospel tweets, lightly edited, and then a meditation that expands on the tweet. The reading ends with a passage of scripture included under “For Further Study and Encouragement”.
The author writes that the devotional is a call for us to remember…
- The horrible disaster of sin
- Jesus, who stood in our place.
- The transforming power of the grace we couldn’t have earned.
- The destiny that is guaranteed to all of God’s blood-purchased children.
- His sovereignty and his glory.
- The remembering is spiritual war, and for this we need grace.
The title of the book is not only a reference to the way the Bible talks about grace, but also an allusion to the hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness”, lyrics written by Thomas Chisholm and music by William M. Runyan:
Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
I look forward to reading through the daily readings in this book this coming year.
The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World by Rosaria Butterfield. Crossway. 240 pages. 2018
This book, by a respected author and speaker, is about hospitality, a subject that I am not very good with, but have a sincere desire to grow in. The author tells us that offering radically ordinary hospitality is an everyday thing at her home. As she describes what that looks like, she tells interesting, and at times heart-breaking, stories that illustrate her points, including stories about Hank, her neighbor next door, and biographical stories about her growing up in Catholic schools, her relationship with her mother and about the kind pastor and his wife who showed her hospitality when she was hostile to the Christian faith. In this book, we are invited into the author’s home, her childhood, her Bible reading, her repentance, and into her homeschool schedules, shopping lists, simple meals, and daily, messy table fellowship. Her hope with the book is that daily fellowship will grow our union with Christ and that we would no longer be that Christian with a pit of empty dreams competing madly with other reigning idols, wondering if this is all there is to the Christian life. After reading this book, you may find that hospitality is ordinary, but the manner in which Rosaria and her family practice it is radical.
First, we need to define what radical, ordinary hospitality is. It is not entertaining like Martha Stewart would describe. The author defines it as “Using your Christian home in a daily way that seeks to make strangers neighbors, and neighbors family of God. It brings glory to God, serves others, and lives out the gospel in word and deed.” Its purpose is “To build, focus, deepen, and strengthen the family of God, pointing others to the Bible-believing local church, and being earthly and spiritual good to everyone we know.” She tells us that we are to take the hand of a stranger and put it in the hand of the Savior, to bridge hostile worlds, and to add to the family of God. She writes that daily hospitality, gathering church and neighbors, is a daily grace.
But daily hospitality can be expensive and even inconvenient. It compels us to care more for our church family and neighbors than our personal status in this world. She tells us that the gospel comes with a house key, not because it is easy, but because it is hard. God makes the key—and the lock to fit it. She writes that the gospel coming with a house key is “ABC Christianity”. Radically ordinary and daily hospitality is the basic building block for vital Christian living.
I highlighted a number of passages as I read the book. Below are just a few of my favorite quotes from the book:
- Radically ordinary hospitality is indeed spiritual warfare.
- Radically ordinary hospitality creates an intimacy among people that allows for genuine differences to be discussed.
- Radically ordinary hospitality begins when we remember that God uses us as living epistles and that the openness or inaccessibility of our homes and hearts stands between life and death, victory and defeat, and grace or shame for most people.
- Christian hospitality cares for the things that our neighbors care about. Esteeming others more highly than ourselves means nothing less.
- And that is what radically ordinary hospitality accomplishes in the Lord’s grace. It meets people as strangers and makes them neighbors; it meets neighbors and make them family.
- Radically ordinary hospitality manifests confident trust that the Lord will care for us and that he will care for others through our obedience.
- Knowing your personality and your sensitivities does not excuse you from ministry. It means that you need to prepare for it differently than others might.
Take Heart: Christian Courage in the Age of Unbelief by Matt Chandler. The Good Book Company. 131 pages. 2018
The author, a respected pastor, states that Christians can thrive in this age of unbelief. He states that each of us will respond in one way or another, and covers three basic approaches, each of which is born of fear:
- Converting Culture Approach. In this approach, what matters most is that our nation’s culture reflects biblical principles and values.
- Condemning Culture Approach. In this approach, the idea is to remove ourselves from the world, retreating into a subculture, and staying well away from wider culture because society is sinful, corrupted and antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Consume Culture Approach. This approach, which he states is in many ways the most widespread, and the scariest, is to follow the trends—to consume culture.
The author wants to give us courage and a posture that allows us to look round and think that this is a great time to be a Christian. The book is about where to find real courage and how to live by it.
He tells us that Christians are going to need to live with courage, but he tells us that will be easier said than it is done. To provide us help, he turns to a few passages from the Bible from the writings of Paul and Peter.
He tells us that there will come a day when we will be marginalized, ridiculed, or oppressed for our faith, if it hasn’t already happened. In that moment, a few of the things that will help us will be:
- The wisdom and knowledge of the Father
- A right assessment of our own weaknesses (in comparison to the greatness of God).
- God’s grace, which breeds courage.
- Holy integrity, devotion and evangelism.
- A big enough view of God—of God the Warrior, for you to be empowered to live with faithful, joyful, positive courage in our secular, post-Christian, post-whatever world.
The section of the book I took the most from was his writing about missional hospitality. He tells us that hospitality means to give loving welcome to those outside our normal circle of friends. It is opening our life and our house to those who believe differently than we do. He writes that God has been hospitable to us, saving us as sinners and inviting us to eat at his table in his eternal home. He writes that we demonstrate that we truly appreciate the divine hospitality we have received as we extend our own hospitality to those around us.
He offers four helpful tips regarding hospitality:
- Welcome everyone we meet.
- Engage with people.
- Make dinner a priority.
- Love the outsider.
He tells us that God extends radical hospitality to me and to you, and that is why we love the outsider: because we were the outsider. Missional hospitality is costly. It costs our time, our money, our comfort. It is also risking and requires trust in God instead of ourselves. It also demands courage. He tells us that the extent of our courage will be shown by who sits round our table.
The author tells us that the end of Christendom may have surprised and scared many Christians, but not God. He is greater than us, and any cultural norm or pressure. He has designed us for such a time and place as this. He tells the believer to take heart, God has given us all we need to live with holiness—with integrity, devotion, and evangelistic hospitality.
Love Does for Kids by Bob Goff and Lindsey Goff Viducich
This wonderful book was written by Bob Goff and his daughter Lindsey Goff Viducich. Geared to children 6-10 years old, the book contains the warmth, humor and life lessons that you’ll find in Bob Goff’s books Love Does and Everybody Always. In fact, if you’ve read those books, you’ll be familiar with a few of these stories, along with many delightful stories of Bob as a child. Each of the 46 brief chapters contains colorful illustrations from Michael Lauritano.
The authors write:
“This book is for kids, big and small. This book is about the new kingdom Jesus invites us all to be part of – a kingdom we can enter only if we are just like kids. In the kingdom of heaven, we are all becoming a little more like children and a little more like love – and learning a little more about what love does”.
This book will make a wonderful gift for the children in your life. I can see some parents reading the book to younger children, while older children will enjoy it on their own. Either way, reading this book will be a joy for kids of all ages.
Below are 25 of my favorite quotes from the book:
- God’s love for us doesn’t change on our worst days. Come to think of it, we can’t earn more of God’s love on our best days. We are simply loved by God, no matter what, and because of Jesus, God doesn’t define us by our mistakes.
- We need to give love away like we’re made of it, and sometimes that comes out in the smallest, simplest acts of kindness.
- Lots of things in Jesus’ kingdom seem to be the opposite of what you’d expect. Jesus said that the people who weren’t well-known would be leaders. He said that the people who were overlooked would actually be most noticed by Him. And in Jesus’ kingdom, our small acts of love can help other people in really big ways.
- The words we say to one another have tremendous power, so let’s make them words of life.
- I think He knew that the more we stand in awe of Him, the less we’ll stand in judgement of each other.
- Sometimes it’s easy to forget that when God thinks about you, He gets a big smile on His face. He didn’t just create us; He really, really likes us too.
- A lot of times, when we think about loving others and building Jesus’ kingdom here on Earth, it’s easy to believe that we need to have everything figured out before we get started. But we don’t.
- When you’re thinking about how to show people love, go big. Imagine the most extraordinary thing you could do to love others, go to your heavenly Dad for help and advice, and pursue the creative dreams He has given you with everything you’ve got. In the end, God doesn’t delight in our successes; He delights in our attempts.
- The gift we give to Him is enjoying the gifts He gives us and sharing them with others. We show Him how much we love Him by how much we love others.
- Being friends with someone without expecting anything in return has the power to change the world.
- What Jesus really wants most from us isn’t our best manners. He wants us to be good friends with Him and good friends with one another, showing love in ways that break all the normal rules.
- No matter what happens, we don’t have to be scared anymore. Jesus knows all about the things that scare us, but even when we feel a little scared, we can remember that He’s our friend and He’s not scared at all.
- Opening up our home to friends all over the world has taught us that real friendship means that we love everybody all the time, just as they are, and that everyone is welcome.
- Instead of worrying about whether or not we have enough to offer to others, we can trust that offering the best we have, even if it isn’t perfect, is enough.
- Love and forgiveness carry the most weight when they are done, rather than simply said. God didn’t simply tell us we were forgiven; He sent Jesus to be with us and show us that we are forgiven.
- Jesus said that real leaders love their enemies, serve the poor, and treat others the way they want to be treated. The type of leadership Jesus taught about is hard, but it can change everything.
- Every time you forgive someone who has hurt you or go out of your way to serve someone who needs help or stand up for someone who is being picked on or share what you have with someone who has less than you, you are helping to heal the world.
- Following Jesus isn’t easy; it costs us something. But that doesn’t mean it will cost everyone the same thing. Figure out who God wants you to be and then do what it takes to become that person.
- The things we create are only as good as the foundations they are built on. When you make your life about the things that matter most – loving God and loving others – you’ll have a solid foundation for building everything else in your life.
- When we actually do the things Jesus said – giving food to people who are hungry, being generous with our time and money, or being nice to people who are mean to us – our hearts with follow our actions, and our faith will become real.
- We are not our successes or our failures. God delights in our attempts, and He loves walking beside you when you try new things, even if it takes a few tries to get them right.
- God delights in surprising us. I’ve found that in my hardest moments, when I feel the most in need of encouragement, I don’t hear God’s voice talking to me out loud – instead, God sends me a friend to remind me about His tremendous love for me.
- When someone does something to hurt us, we need to give them a chance to make things right. By responding with kindness instead of hurting others back, we often become even better friends with them and get to show them the kindness of Jesus.
- If we quit the things that aren’t God’s best for us, maybe we’ll have more time for things that matter.
- Sometimes all we can do is walk through sadness with each other, not around it. God gave us each other so we wouldn’t need to pass through the most difficult times alone.
Christ’s Call to Reform the Church: Timeless Demands from The Lord to His People by John MacArthur. Moody Publishers. 208 pages. 2018
In this important new book by respected pastor and author John MacArthur, he looks at the risen Christ’s letters to the seven churches in Revelation and applies the message to today’s church. He states that they were not written to City Hall, but to churches. He tells us that there has never been any Christian nation, just Christians. Political and social justice efforts are at best short-term external solutions for society’s moral ills. Morality is not the solution on its own. Pushing for cultural morality or even social justice is a distraction from the work of the church. Instead, the world needs the Gospel. They need to know that their sins can be forgiven.
The author tells us that calling the church to repent and reform can be dangerous. He states that the Puritans called the Church of England to repent and tells of the resulting Great Ejection of 1662. He also discusses the Protestant Reformation, which he refers back to near the end of the book.
He reviews the traits of an apostate church, and critiques the current view of some that we need to go back to living like the first century church, using house churches as a model. He tells us that first century churches were engaged in various forms of sinful behavior.
Jesus’ message to the church through John was to repent. There were consequences if they failed to reform. The author takes each letter and explains them in detail. He gives historical background on the cities and churches, and also the biblical background of the churches. He applies what was written to each church to the today’s church. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”.
Below are a few items I want to highlight about each of the seven churches:
The Loveless Church – Ephesus
- Ephesus may have had the strongest lineage of leaders as any church. But even they could not keep them from falling into sin.
- They had lost their first love and turned into mechanical piety. They had not yet compromised with the world however. They still had time to repent.
- Were told to turn back and not abandon God.
- Sadly, today there is no church in Ephesus. Their lampstand was removed.
The Persecuted Church – Smyrna
- They were purified by persecution.
- Christians should expect persecution, but we don’t suffer in vain.
- Persecution makes the church stronger. More persecution was coming. Polycarp’s martyrdom.
- They were poor but were spiritually rich.
- No rebukes or condemnation from the Lord in this letter. They are an example to all churches.
- God will preserve the believer so that we can overcome.
The Compromised Church – Pergamum
- The Lord demands pure worship. But today some of our most influential and largest megachurches tend toward pragmatism, relevance, sinner-friendliness and worldliness. Rather than the word of God, they emphasize culture (movies, music).
- A church that’s just like the world has nothing to offer the world.
- The letter starts out with a threat.
- Pergamum had emperor worship and the preeminence of Satan, but the church did not deny their faith.
- Persecution resulted in the death of Antipas who was faithful. But some compromised and led believers back to sin.
- Paul’s warning to separate and not to be joined with unbelievers.
- The church had stayed true on doctrine, but not on holiness. They had become friends with the world.
The Corrupt Church – Thyatira
- Today, many churches ignore sin in the name of tolerance, unity and love. But we cannot tolerate sin in our midst.
- Thyatira had not kept the church pure. False believers dominated the church. The precious few believers in the church remained faithful.
- It was a church spiraling to Hell. Jezebel was leading God’s people into idolatry (Gnosticism, antinomianism).
- There was adultery in the church.
- God will kill those who bring a corrupting influence into the church.
- God was giving his judgement of Thyatira as an example to the church.
- Gave comfort to the few faithful believers. Told them to hold fast.
The Dead Church – Sardis
- From a distance Sardis, like many churches today, looked fine. But inside it was dead. It was only going through the spiritual motions.
- There was spiritual decay, the church was a spiritual graveyard.
- Churches need the Holy Spirit and faithful shepherds. Sardis had neither.
- They tolerated sin, and had no desire for holiness.
- Were told to repent and reform, or face judgment.
- The letter ends with hope for the saints.
- There is some evidence that the church did wake up and revival came.
The Faithful Church – Philadelphia
- What matters to God is faithfulness
- Was a letter of commendation and praise. There were no words of rebuke from the Lord.
- They displayed signs of a faithful church – true worshippers, kept His word, loyalty to Christ and endurance despite persecution.
- There was a call to persevere.
- A list of blessings and promises the Lord will grant them.
The Lukewarm Church – Laodicea
- Was the only one of the seven churches that Christ did not say something positive to.
- Were self-deceived, pious hypocrites. They had a warped view of Christ.
- Were non-believers called to repent and reform.
- Still, the Lord had a tender affection for the people of Laodicea. Come to Him and avoid His wrath. He shows them the path to a right relationship with Him.
- Reminds them of the cost of heresy and hypocrisy.
The author ends the book stating that there is a need for a new Reformation, using the five Sola’s of the Protestant Reformation:
- Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone
- Sola Fide – Faith alone
- Sola Gratia – Grace alone
- Solus Christus – Christ alone
- Soli Deo Gloria – To the glory of God alone
Letters to the Church by Francis Chan. David C. Cook. 224 pages. 2018
I haven’t been challenged so much by a book since I first read Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love several years ago. This book has a lot of similarities to Crazy Love, as the author looks at what a church should be according to scripture and shows where the American church is lacking. I read the book in two days, and I’m sure I will read it many more times, just as I have Crazy Love. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.
The author begins the book by discussing why he left Cornerstone Church eight years ago. He admits that he didn’t lead very well, and that leaving Cornerstone was not an easy decision. After some time overseas, he felt that the Lord was leading him to come back to America to plant churches. Five years ago, twenty years after planting Cornerstone out of a living room, he planted We Are Church In San Francisco.
Each chapter, or letter, of the book addresses a different issue a church may or may not need to work on. The author writes that the book is about the most obvious commands repeated throughout the entire Bible. He tried to pay attention to the times when God seems most bothered by what His people were doing. He has tried to point out only the most obvious biblical truths about God’s desire for His Bride—truths that he writes none of us can afford to ignore. He states that he has written from the perspective of not worrying about the fallout from the book, but sought only to be faithful to God.
Throughout the book he provides encouraging examples of international churches. However, he writes that as he examines the state of the Christian Church today, he can’t help but think that God is displeased with many of the churches in America. He states that the more he studies the Gospels, the more he is convinced that those of us who live in the United States have a warped view of what it means to be a “Christian”, and it is for that reason our churches are in the state they are in.
The author uses a lot of scripture in this book. Aspects of church that he addresses in the book include devotion to scripture, prayer, unity, community, love, serving others, leadership, humility, suffering and children.He uses one chapter to describe some things they have done at We Are Church in an effort to be obedient to the commands he reviewed in the previous chapters.
His hope is to motivate the reader to change anything necessary in order to be obedient to scripture. He believes God is leading a movement in this country toward simple, smaller gatherings (which he refers to as Churchbnb), and he longs to see this movement gain greater traction.
The author encourages us not to blindly follow the things he has written. Instead, he wants us to study the scriptures, get alone with the Bible and the Holy Spirit, seek Him with all our heart and surrender everything to Him.
I highlighted a large number of passages in the book. Here are 25 of the best quotes:
- It is imperative that we differentiate between what we want and what God commands. Not that our desires are all bad, but they must take a back seat to what He emphasizes.
- In our impatient culture, we want to experience biblical awe without biblical devotion. At the core of our dysfunction is not necessarily style or structure but lack of devotion.
- What would it mean for us to strip away the distractions and become a people who devoted ourselves to Scripture? I firmly believe that we would see a power in our churches like we’ve never experienced before.
- If Communion has become boring for us now, it could be that we’ve lost sight of the value of Jesus’ sacrifice. When Communion feels like an obligation rather than a life-giving necessity, a serious heart scan needs to take place.
- If prayer isn’t vital for your church, then your church isn’t vital.
- If you can accomplish your church’s mission without daily, passionate prayer, then your mission is insufficient and your church is irrelevant.
- One thing the New Testament makes clear is that the Church is supposed to be known for its love. Jesus says our love for one another is the very thing that will attract the world. But can you name a single church in our country that is known for the way its members love one another?
- Scripture is clear: there is a real connection between our unity and the believability of our message. If we are serious about winning the lost, we must be serious about pursuing unity.
- Obedience often grates against our natural desires, but if we obey only when it feels natural, then Jesus is not truly Lord of our lives.
- You can’t shape the life of your church around who might leave if things start to feel too much like the New Testament.
- What if we followed God’s design for the Church and in doing so allowed the Church to be pruned down to only those who wanted to obey His command to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12)? We might actually find that a pruned tree would bear more fruit (v. 2). We might discover that the branches that weren’t bearing fruit were actually sucking all the life out of the tree.
- Biblical unity is achieved not by overlooking sin but through firm pruning, which can lead to repentance.
- At the core of our faith lies this belief that almighty God humbled Himself to serve us and die for us. At the root of our calling is a command to imitate Him by serving one another.
- It’s no secret that most people who attend church services come as consumers rather than servants.
- It is our inability to take our eyes off ourselves and put them onto others that destroys us. This is what Jesus saves us from. This is what the Holy Spirit wants to do in us. The most humble people are typically the happiest.
- We have to stop viewing church leaders as people who minister to us. God clearly explained their role. It was not to coddle you but to equip you. Think personal trainer, not massage therapist.
- Turn around and look. If there is no one following you, something is wrong with your life. God has called you to the work of making disciples.
- God has always championed the humble person who passionately seeks Him.
- My goal in shepherding has changed so much. Long gone are the days when I am content with a bunch of people who sing loud, don’t divorce, and give to missions. I now want to know I can drop off any member of my church in a city and that person could grow in Jesus, make disciples, and start a church.
- The Church is in dire need of a fresh wave of godly leadership. I pray all existing leaders would be renewed or replaced.
- There are millions of people in our country who call themselves Christians because they believe the Christian life is about admiring Christ’s example, not realizing it is a call to follow it. If they really understood this, the numbers would drop drastically.
- Run from any teacher who promises wealth and prosperity in this life. The call to follow Christ is the call to joyfully endure suffering in this life for the promise of eternal blessing in the next.
- Until we embrace the suffering that so many Christians embrace around the world, we’re not going to have an unstoppable Church.
- More and more often, people are starting to water down their convictions because they don’t want to offend anyone. Instead of embracing the persecution that comes with standing out from and against the world, we have begun to embrace the world to try to convince it to tolerate us. That’s not the way it was supposed to be.
- I think we have become much too accustomed to allowing sin to invade the church because it’s part of our culture.
The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution by Albert Mohler. Thomas Nelson. 209 pages. 2018
In this helpful book, the author, a respected seminary president and the host of The Briefing podcast, explains what the words in “The Lord’s Prayer” mean and how we are to pray them. He tells us that the Lord’s Prayer is the prayer that turns the world upside down. He tells us that there is no clearer call to revolution than when we pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But this is a revolution only God can bring … and He will. He writes that the Lord’s Prayer takes less than 20 seconds to read aloud, but it takes a lifetime to learn. But sadly, most Christians rush through the prayer without learning it, and that is to miss the point completely.
The author tells us that Jesus did not only teach his disciples to pray – he commanded us to pray. But many Christians simply do not know how to pray. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us how to pray.
The author tells us that like anything of great value, prayer takes great effort, tremendous care, and Spirit-filled discipline. The Lord’s Prayer must be seen not only as a model of what prayer is, but also as a model of what prayer is not. What we believe about God is revealed most truly not in what we say about him but in how we approach him—in prayer or in worship. He tells us that a failure to pray is therefore not only a sign of anemic spiritual life, it is disobedience to Christ. We need the Lord Jesus Christ himself to teach us to pray because, left to our own devices, we will pray wrongly.
Below are ten quotes from this excellent book:
• Do you notice what is stunningly absent? There is no first-person singular pronoun in the entire prayer!
• One of our greatest problems and deficiencies in prayer is that we begin with our own concerns and our own petitions without regard for our brothers and sisters.
• The Lord’s Prayer is for revolutionaries, for men and women who want to see the kingdoms of this world give way to the kingdom of our Lord.
• Prayer does not change God; it changes us.
• There is simply no way to reconcile the general prayerlessness of the typical modern American Christian with the teachings of the New Testament and the example of Christ.
• The Lord isn’t looking for impressive words; he is looking for humble hearts—hearts that trust him enough to work, even when our words are few.
• The petition “give us this day our daily bread” reminds us of our dependence on God for even the most fundamental needs of life.
• Jesus’ words on forgiveness are clear. Without forgiving others we will not be forgiven. Again, the grounds of our forgiveness is never our own works. But forgiveness is a necessary evidence that we have received forgiveness. If we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven.
• The most dangerous thing a Christian can ever do is believe that he is somehow immune to temptation. In fact, failing to account for the dangers of temptation betrays a severe misunderstanding of the gospel.
• The Bible does not teach that God helps those who help themselves; instead, God helps those who are at the end of themselves.
A companion resource is Dr. Mohler’s 12-part Ligonier Ministries teaching resource The Lord’s Prayer. You can watch the videos from the series free online here.
Morning and Evening: A New Edition of the Classic Devotional Based on The Holy Bible, English Standard Version by Charles H. Spurgeon. Revised and Updated by Alistair Begg
Charles Spurgeon was one of England’s most popular preachers during the second half of the 19th century. He published many books including a morning devotional in 1865 called Morning by Morning and an evening devotional in 1868 called Evening by Evening. Since that time, many Christians have begun and ended their days with these devotional classics. Respected pastor and author Alistair Begg tells us that these writings are unrivaled as an example of deep theological insight and warm pastoral concern.
In revising and updating Spurgeon’s classic Morning and Evening devotional readings, Begg has tried to make them more readable without spoiling the splendor of Spurgeon’s language. Many of the changes are minor and will go largely undetected by the reader. In a few instances, because of the differences between the King James Version and the English Standard Version of the Bible, Begg was forced to take more liberty. Throughout, his goal was to fashion the material in a way in which it will be accessible to a far wider audience than it had been before. His prayer is that another generation will emerge thankful to God for the work of Spurgeon.
Morning and Evening provides two devotionals a day – one for the morning and one for the evening. A Scripture verse opens each reading. A Scripture Index is included in the back of the volume.
I had this book on my desk in my office at work for daily readings for years. This volume is a wonderful companion to the new CSB Spurgeon Study Bible, which Begg served as the editor.
When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. Moody Publishers. Originally published in 2009. 288 pages.
I’d been wanting to read this book for some time now. I don’t know if you are like me, but I always struggle about what to do when I see people begging on the street or sidewalk. Should I give them a handout? Will they use it for food or alcohol? Does it matter?
The authors present their thoughts in a well-organized manner, from the theoretical to application, in this practical and helpful book directed primarily at North American Christians. They begin with foundational concepts for helping the poor, and then build on those with principles and strategies, as they offer solid, practical and biblical advice on an important subject.
The authors state that there has been a growing interest by North American Christians and churches to help the poor. However, they write that in many instances those good intentions can actually make things worse for those in poverty, and hinder the work of alleviating poverty.
The authors assert that:
- North American Christians are not doing enough.
- When North American Christians do attend to poverty alleviation, it often does harm.
The authors state that how the poor describe poverty (shame, inferiority), is different from the way North American Christians do (material poverty). This makes a difference in the solutions we advance. We tend to treat the symptoms, rather than the real problem.
They provide biblical foundation for this discussion by using the biblical grand narrative of creation, fall and redemption. We are broken people because of the fall. What is it that motivates us to help the poor?
They address “material poverty” vs.” relational poverty”. The so-called “Health and Wealth Gospel” teaches that spiritual maturity leads to material prosperity.
In looking at redemption, they begin to look at ways to alleviate poverty. We need to put things in right relationship. We need to have a ministry of reconciliation of relationships. We are all broken and need to be saved. We are broken individuals and there are broken systems.
The authors tell us that not all poverty is the same. We need to consider what approach – relief, rehabilitation or development – is needed in each situation. They tell us that one of the biggest mistakes that North American churches make is in applying relief to situations in which rehabilitation or development is the appropriate intervention. They tell us that we shouldn’t do anything for people that they can do for themselves. We should begin not with what the poor need, but what gifts they have, using Asset Based Community Development (ABCD). We should balance the North American desire for speed vs. long-term solutions. Another point is that people should participate in their own development.
The authors spend quite a bit of time discussing short-term missions. They indicate that in 2006 2.2 million North Americans participated in a short-term mission trip. They offer helpful suggestions on how to improve short-term missions so that they help, rather than harm the poor.
The final section of the book addresses how churches can help the poor in North America and abroad. This section includes information on micro-financing solutions and training ministries.
Throughout, the authors include helpful illustrations. They demonstrate humility and honesty on when they hurt while trying to help. This is a helpful book for both individuals and churches.
For more information on alleviating poverty, go to www.whenhelpinghurts.org
How to Be a Perfect Christian: Your Comprehensive Guide to Flawless Spiritual Living. Multnomah. 208 pages. 2018
I’ve been enjoying the witty satire from The Babylon Bee for the past few years and had been looking forward to this book, which doesn’t disappoint. I had a smile on my face the entire time I was reading this book by Adam Ford and Kyle Mann as they give the reader tongue in cheek advice on how to be the perfect Christian. As you work your way through the book on your journey to becoming the perfect Christian, you can get helpful updates by using The Babylon Bee’s proprietary “Holiness Progress Tracker 5000”.
The authors tell us how to find just the right church to join – one that is focused solely on you. They encourage you to find a church that emphasizes and cultivates the historical Christian virtues of convenience and comfort. The authors walk the reader through topics such as the church auditorium, worship service, worship leader, pastor, small groups, praying in public, the use of Christianese, serving (or not), your online presence (this section really nailed me), films to watch, the need to home school, vote Republican, etc. They do all of this in a humorous manner, but also in a way that hits pretty close to home at times.
Highly recommended for those who wish to be the perfect Christian!
Heaven on Earth: What the Bible Teaches about Life to Come by Derek Thomas. Christian Focus Publications. 75 pages. 2018
The material in this short book, from a respected pastor and theologian, was originally preached as sermons. His prayer for the readers of the book is that they will get right with God, before it is too late. It is only then, he writes, that heaven can be entertained as an assurance and certainty.
He writes that for all the skepticism that abounds in our time, people still want to know what happens after death. But what do people mean when they talk about heaven? The author is persuaded that he shall be in heaven when he dies, but he won’t spend eternity in that heaven. No, at the Resurrection, he shall live in the new heaven and new earth, with the emphasis on the new earth.
He writes that preaching about what happens after death confirmed in him once again the vital importance of what happens after death. Apart from the gospel—faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, apart from any works on our part—it is not heaven (in either sense) that awaits us, but everlasting punishment in hell.
He writes that when we die, our consciousness, or our “soulish part”, continues to exist. We never really cease to exist, but simply continue in another realm of God’s created order, in that realm where Jesus lives in His resurrected, ascended body. That place is called heaven. He writes that we can be certain that heaven and hell exist because the Bible insists on it.
He tells us that death is not the end, just the start of another journey. It is like getting on a train, or bus or an airplane that will take us to heaven. Christians have every reason to believe that heaven awaits them when they die. After death, Christians are more alive than they have ever been. They are in the presence of Christ, and they know it. Knowing the journey ahead with certainty enables us to face it with courage.
He writes that nothing could be more certain for a believer than the belief that when we die, our souls are with Jesus in a conscious state and, when Jesus returns, our souls will be clothed with the physicality of a resurrected body.
Where will believers spend eternity? In a world like ours, but only better, on a new heaven and new earth. Heaven in its final state will be like a new city, a new temple, a new garden and a new world. In the new heavens and new earth, Christians are going to reign with Christ.
Scripture is very clear that differences exist in the new earth. There is continuity and there is also discontinuity. The greatest experience of heaven will be to gaze on Jesus’ beautiful face. We will bow in worship and praise and adoration and sing His praises.
This short, and very readable book, would be an excellent one to give to those who have questions about what happens after we die.
Strength for the Weary by Derek W.H. Thomas. Reformation Trust Publishing. 137 pages. 2018
The latest book by a respected pastor and theologian is a devotional book written for the purpose of encouraging downtrodden pilgrims. He tells us that weariness in the Christian life is something we all experience at some stage or another. Finding help in the midst of our trials and finding God in difficult times is what this book is about.
This short book, which originated as part of a short series of sermons the author preached, is not a commentary on the entirety of the second half of Isaiah. Instead, the author has chosen some of the great texts from this portion of Scripture. The author uses passages that have meant a great deal to him over the years, and he writes that they seem particularly poignant for the antagonistic culture in which we currently live. The book is intended to provide encouragement to weary pilgrims on their journey through this world of trial and sorrow.
I was encouraged as I read this book and highlighted many passages as I read it. Below are a few that stood out for me.
- God knows the end and the beginning. And when we find ourselves in the fog of despair, He knows the way out. He knows how this story will end because He has planned it and controls it.
- For in the midst of the pain and heartache is our inscrutable, unchangeable, sovereign Lord. And when we discover Him, and fall into His arms, there is a peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7).
- There is always a purpose behind what is happening, even if we cannot see it. It is the purpose of God.
- Isaiah offers confidence for those who have lost all sense of hope. He offers meaning and purpose where there is only vanity and despair. When all you have is an ache or a longing, there is an invitation to salvation and wholeness.
- To both the hopeless and the dissatisfied, Isaiah offers confidence and fulfillment.
- It is one thing to impose laws and ceremonies that God has not commanded and make this everything. It is another to neglect laws and ceremonies that God has commanded and think this is nothing.
- The Sabbath is designed as help for the weary. It provides a taste of gospel rest and a foretaste of eternal rest.
- Until His kingdom comes. Strength is found in prayer.
- God intends for us an existence in which we will never die or experience the pain of loss or suffering.
- Giving yourself to things that ultimately have no lasting value will ultimately destroy you. Instead, and by the grace of God, give yourself to what really lasts: the new heavens and new earth. This alone provides strength for the weary.
The Gospel According to God by John MacArthur. Crossway. 224 pages. 2018
This is respected pastor and Bible teacher John MacArthur’s fourth book in his The Gospel According to series. This book looks primarily at Isaiah 53, which he tells us includes the whole story of salvation in prophesy. He states that this is the most remarkable chapter in the Old Testament. Augustine called it the “Fifth Gospel”, and Luther thought that every Christian should memorize Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12.
The author tells us that Isaiah is the most quoted Old Testament prophet in the New Testament. His prophesies, written more than seven centuries before the birth of Jesus, were so accurate, that critics have claimed that multiple people had to have written the book.
There is a significant amount of doctrine included in Isaiah 53, including the penal, or substitutionary atonement of Jesus, the sovereign initiative of God and the justification of many. The author tells us that this is the doctrine of the Protestant Reformers, the Puritans and their heirs, but is challenged by some within the church today. For example, one writer has called the substitutionary atonement of Jesus “child abuse”.
The Ethiopian eunuch was reading from this chapter when Philip came upon him in Acts 8: 26-39. The chapter is a magnetic description of Christ’s sacrifice for sins. The author believes Isaiah 53 is the most important text in the Old Testament but tells us that many Jews are not familiar with it, as the passage is never read in their worship.
The author provides a brief overview of the entire book of Isaiah, the life, times and politics (kings) of Isaiah the prophet, a mysterious figure, and a detailed exposition of Isaiah 53. The book explains the prophetic words of Isaiah 53 verse by verse, highlighting connections to the history of Israel and to the New Testament.
This book is a wonderful, clear exposition of the prophesies of the suffering and glory of Jesus, the Suffering Servant, the Servant of God, who was slaughtered by God for us. A sermon of Charles Spurgeon “The Man of Sorrows” is included as an appendix.
The author has been a faithful expositor of God’s Word for fifty years. I highly recommend this book for not only believers, but also skeptics and those of the Jewish faith. The audiobook version is well-read by Bob Souer.
Halftime: Moving from Success to Significance by Bob Buford. Zondervan. 224 pages. 2011 Edition.
This book was recently recommended to a friend of mine by a leader we both respected who has recently retired. Being at the same stage of life as my friend, I decided to read the book as well. This is an updated and revised edition of the author’s best-selling book. It includes new stories, questions and answers, and a new chapter on doing “Halftime” if you can’t quit your job.
Using the analogy of a sports game (think football or basketball), the author tells us that the first half of our lives (usually our first 40 years or so), is when we focus most on our careers and less on others and significant causes. It is the time for following our dreams, chasing and acquiring success. It is also the season to develop our faith and learn more from the Bible about how to approach life. It is here that we learn, gain and earn.
“Halftime” is when you take stock of what you have accomplished thus far in your life and look for ways to move from success to significance. It’s a chance to dig more deeply into what you believe and evaluate whether your life is heading in a direction aligned with your beliefs.
The second half is the time when you can truly make a significant contribution to the world. The author states that the biggest mistake most of us make in the first half of our lives is not taking enough time for the things that are really important. The second half is the season for us to use our gifts in service to others.
Throughout the book the author tells his personal story. His father died when he was in the fifth grade. His mother went on to found a successful radio and then later television company, which she would later turn over to him. His mother died in a hotel fire when the author was only 31. Later, the author would lose his only son at 24 years old in a drowning accident.
At just 34 years of age, the author developed 6 life goals. He was very successful, but what came after success? He realized that it was time to take stock, to stop and listen to the Voice.
He was challenged by a friend to determine what was in his “box”, what was his “one thing”. What would he do with what he believed? He needed to move from success to significance with Jesus at his center. He tells us that the key to your second half, which he believes can be better than your first, is a change of heart.
He suggests developing a personal mission statement as you seek to regain control of your life in your second half.
He writes of the importance of life-long learning in your second half. We should never stop learning. He also addresses money issues. He writes that the second half is not about money, but about mission.
He writes that getting from your first half to your second half isn’t easy, nor are the lines between the two halves clear. It is on ongoing journey about living a fulfilling life and leaving a valued legacy.
He tells us that “Halftime” is the opposite of retirement. Once you have your “what”, you can start working on your “how”.
The author’s passion is to multiply all that God has given him, and in the process to give it back. What is your passion? What is in your “box”? What is your “one thing”?
This helpful book ends with appendices on the wisdom of Peter Drucker, who was a large influence on the author and questions and answers with the author.
When Is It Right to Die? A Comforting and Surprising Look at Death and Dying by Joni Eareckson Tada. Zondervan Updated Edition. 208 pages. 2018
There are few people I respect more than Joni Eareckson Tada. She has had tremendous influence since a diving accident left her in a wheelchair fifty years ago. I’ve read many of her books and seen her speak at conferences. This is a revised edition of a book that she wrote 25 years ago. Much has changed during that time. When the book was first written, some of what is covered in this helpful new edition was only theoretical.
The book goes beyond the theoretical to the practical. Joni helps us make the moral judgments we will all be faced with. She brings what she and her family have learned from going through the dying process with her father. She writes about her own periods of depression, suicidal thoughts, severe pain and also breast cancer.
She writes about physician assisted suicide, which is now legal in five states in the U.S. She recalls the case of Terri Schiavo case, who was deemed to be in a “persistent vegetative state”, and other stories from the headlines, but indicates that most of these stories never make the headlines. She shares heart-breaking letters that have been sent to her.
Joni tells us that 44,000 people commit suicide in the U.S. each year, and many, many more attempt it, in addition to those who take advantage of states that provide physician’s assisted suicide. Why the increase in those taking their own life? Joni states that it is often due to pain and no hope for relief. This much and no more.
She shares several answers that people give as to when it is right to die (when it’s too expensive to live, mercy, pain, etc.). She writes that unfortunately 38% of evangelicals support in certain cases “mercy killing”. She defines the various terms in the conversation (euthanasia, physician’s assisted suicide, etc.).
Scripture says that death is the final enemy. Joni writes that you have the right to live. She writes how your decision for life matters to others, to yourself and to the enemy, and to God.
She shows from the Bible that God is opposed to mercy killing, but that it is acceptable to let dying people die. The act of dying does not need to be prolonged. End of life decisions are difficult. She recommends an Advanced Care Directive, as opposed to a Living Will. She recommends that you assist your loved ones by documenting your wishes and revisit them often. Ask God to give you wisdom on these important decisions.
This practical book contains real-life stories throughout. She tells us that a life worth living is found in Christ. One day believers will have the most perfect “final exit”. This is an excellent book to read with others in a book club setting. Helpful questions for discussion and reflection are included at the end of each chapter.
Rediscovering the Holy Spirit: God’s Perfecting Presence in Creation, Redemption, and Everyday Life by Michael Horton. Zondervan. 336 pages. 2017
In this scholarly work, the author, a seminary professor, wants to widen our vision of the Holy Spirit’s work. He looks at the mystery of the Trinity, and some of the heresies that have arisen about the Trinity throughout church history. He tells us that the Holy Spirit is polarizing in local churches today, primarily due to the Charismatic movement, and that interest in the Holy Spirit has been increasing. This renewed interest does not necessarily bring new clarity and consistency to historical teaching however. He tells us that the Holy Spirit is the first member of the Godhead that we encounter as new believers, and that most misunderstood is the Holy Spirit’s work or operation in the life of the believer.
At the same time, many (churches, believers), have their focus on Jesus, and so can sometimes attribute works of the Holy Spirit to Jesus. We need to be aware of the distinctions between the two, but not separate them.
Horton tells us that there is a depersonalization of the Holy Spirit (“It”, power, energy, etc.), instead of a person, and a member of the Trinity. He states that the Reformation brought a rediscovery of the Holy Spirit.
His emphasis in the book is:
- The distinctiveness of the Holy Spirit’s person and work, along with His unity with the Father and Son.
- Identification of the Holy Spirit’s operations in Scripture.
He begins by looking at the personal attributes of the members of the Trinity (Father is unbegotten, Son is begotten and the Holy Spirit proceeds), and then looks at the person and work of the Holy Spirit throughout redemptive history, including becoming our new advocate, Pentecost, the Ascension and the last days. He looks at the difference in the Holy Spirit’s presence before and after Pentecost, and the controversial topic of the continuation or discontinuation of the sign gifts of the Holy Spirit. He also looks at the “Golden Chain of Salvation” (Romans 8:30) and the role of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, adoption, justification, sanctification and glorification.
Among the other subjects he looks at are the Holy Spirit and the means of grace, the Holy Spirit and the Word and baptism. I would have liked him to spend some time addressing the idea of a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit in revival. I’ve read books by respected pastors and theologians who fall on both sides of that issue.
Throughout the book, he utilizes Scripture, and also quotes liberally from other authors such as Sinclair Ferguson.
Some of Horton’s books (Core Christianity, Ordinary, for example) are written for a wide audience. This book, however, is an exhaustive and scholarly look at the third person of the Trinity. I believe this book would best be appreciated by pastors and others who have some theological training.
Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family and Church by Keith and Kristyn Getty. B&H Books. 176 pages. 2017
This excellent book written by respected modern hymn-writers Keith and Kristyn Getty is a gift to the church. It can be read individually or as a group. The authors include helpful suggestions on how churches can use the book. The book includes helpful discussion questions at the end of each chapter that readers will benefit from, whether the book is read individually or as a group. The book is intended to be practical, which it is, though not prescriptive.
The authors have five urgent goals for the book:
1 – To help pastors, musicians and congregations have a clear vision and understanding of why we sing.
2 – To help each of us realize the importance of what we sing and how those song choices affect our personal lives.
3 – To help us raise our families with an appetite for congregational singing and training in it.
4 – To help our churches become energized and more focused in their congregational singing.
5 – To help fire us to mission as we witness to others through the songs we sing.
The authors write that Martin Luther reinvigorated singing. Singing was the heart of the Reformation. They tell us that we were born to sing, and that we need to learn how to love to sing. Christian singing starts with the heart. It is prayer. Congregational singing is the ultimate choir. We should sing because we love God. We are commanded to sing, so we must do it, primarily with other believers.
The book looks at what we should sing and how we should sing. The Gospel compels us to sing. Worship comes as a response to revelation. We were created, commanded and compelled to sing. The songs we sing on Sunday become the soundtrack for our week.
We need good songs stored up in our hearts. We need to grow our appetite for good congregational singing. Sing to yourself throughout the week what you sang in church on Sunday.
Sing with your family. We need to make singing Bible-truths second nature for our children. Singing the Gospel prepares and changes hearts. Be a parent that sings with joy. Take singing in our homes seriously as an investment in our children.
Stand together as a firm foundation by singing with the local church, your family. The authors write of reaching the Millennial generation through creativity, communication and community. They tell us that all healthy churches are singing churches. Singing together is always a witness. A radical witness to a world that rejects God. It can be a powerful testimony. Being vague in the music we sing is not “seeker-friendly”. Half-hearted singing damages our witness. We need to sing the Gospel as part of the way you share the Gospel. A good question they ask is what would our church music communicate about the Gospel to visiting non-believers?
The book includes four “Bonus Tracks” or chapters specifically for those with a role in the music sung in our churches. Those chapters are:
Track 1 – for pastors and elders. Good congregational signing begins with the pastoral leadership.
Track 2 – Worship and song leader. Christ is our ultimate worship leader.
Track 3 – Musicians, choir and production
Track 4 – Songwriters and creatives
The authors read the audiobook version, the main part of the book primarily Kristyn, and the “Bonus Tracks” by Keith. This is a quick-read, and highly recommended.
Registration is now open for the Sing! 2018 conference, September 10-12 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Rescuing Christmas: The Search for Joy that Lasts by Carl Laferton. The Good Book Company. 66 pages. 2017
The author tells us that while Christmas is a day of great enjoyment for many, sometimes he just finds himself wanting to get through Christmas day intact. Face it, the Christmas season can be both joyful and stressful. Christmas can also be a very sad time, reminding you of who you’ve lost or who you’ve never had, or of what you’d hoped to achieve or change this year but never did. Perhaps this year for a very good reason you’re simply trying to “get through Christmas”. In this short book, the author asks us to imagine whether Christmas could be rescued from the stress or sadness of just getting through Christmas. He asks us to imagine a joy that lasts and endures past Christmas. He tells us that indeed, Christmas does offer that kind of joy. He tells us that the people who experienced the first Christmas and understood its meaning found a joy that did not fade, and we can as well.
The author writes that if we get the meaning of the first Christmas this Christmas season, then we will get the feeling of joy, and find that it is a feeling that lasts. That’s the aim of this book, in which he focuses primarily on what happened after Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
He tells us about the Magi who came from the east to Judea. He states that the gifts they gave to the Christ child tell us why the meaning of Christmas can be summed up in the word “rescue”. He tells us that the gift of gold tells us what we are rescued from. The gift of frankincense tells us what we are rescued for. And the gift of myrrh tells us what we are rescued by. The author writes that these gifts tell you everything you need to get the message of Christmas, and to feel overjoyed by the message of Christmas, just as the Magi did.
The author states that we are rescued from our rejection of God, we are rescued for relationship with God, and we are rescued by the death of God’s son Jesus. He tells us that when we understand that the meaning of Christmas is rescue – a rescue from our rejection of God, a rescue for relationship with God, a rescue by the death of God – then we begin to see that true joy is found not in getting to Christmas, or in getting through Christmas, but in getting Christmas—in grasping its meaning and experiencing its feeling.
This small book is priced such that you can buy multiple copies to give to friends and family, and I would encourage you to do just that this Christmas season.
Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional by Paul Tripp. Crossway. 160 pages. 2017
The author of this new book of devotional readings writes that the Christmas story is the story of stories, but for some it suffers from our familiarity with it. He writes that when we are familiar with things we tend not to celebrate them as we once did. Familiarity tends to rob us of our wonder. As a result, he writes that many of us aren’t gripped by the stunningly magnificent events and truths of the birth of Jesus anymore. Many of us are no longer gripped by wonder as we consider what this story tells us about the character and plan of God. And sadly, many of us are no longer humbled by what the incarnation of Jesus tells us about ourselves.
During the busy holiday season other things capture and control our hearts. When that happens however, little room remains for wonder and worship. He writes that familiarity often means that what is very important may no longer exercise important influence over us in the way it should. He tells us that he wrote this book with the hope and prayer that God would use it to recapture our attention and reactivate our awe.
Each of these 21 meditations begin with what was at one time a tweet that the author had posted a few years back. That thought is then explained, defined, expanded and applied. Following each meditation are Scriptures to use for further study. In addition, at the end of each meditation the author provides one central theme, one core truth from the narrative of Jesus’s birth for the reader to discuss with your children in order to fight what familiarity has already done to the way their young hearts think about Christmas.
We are enjoying this new devotional in our home as we prepare our hearts for the birth of our Savior.
The CSB Spurgeon Study Bible. Holman Bible Publishers 1824 pages
I was excited when I first heard about this new Study Bible due to my admiration and respect for both Charles Spurgeon and Alistair Begg. Charles Spurgeon was called the “Prince of Preachers.” He was a great Reformed Baptist preacher in London. He preached to over 10 million people in his lifetime (1834-1892), and his written sermons have impacted millions more. The new Study Bible is edited by Alistair Begg, longtime Senior Pastor, author, conference speaker and Bible teacher on the radio program Truth for Life. This is not the first time that Begg, who has a deep love for Spurgeon, has shown his appreciation for Spurgeon’s work. In 2003, he modernized Spurgeon’s English in an updated version of Spurgeon’s classic Morning and Evening devotional, using the English Standard Version of the Bible for the text.
The CSB Spurgeon Study Bible features thousands of excerpts (quotes and illustrations) from Spurgeon’s sermons chosen and edited by Alistair Begg. Readers will find twenty of Spurgeon’s earliest sermon manuscripts throughout the Study Bible. I particularly enjoyed the biography of Spurgeon that was written by Begg. The study bible uses the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) version of the Bible. This is my first time reading this version of the Bible.
In addition, the Kindle version of the CSB Spurgeon Study Bible was available at a very low cost, in comparison with some other Study Bibles that I have purchased.
I’m enjoying using this new resource in my daily Bible reading. For more information on the Spurgeon Study Bible, go to http://csbspurgeonstudybible.com/
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.
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.
Befriend: 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: 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.
65 Wonderful Quotes from
Unlimited Grace by Bryan Chapell
- New obedience and daily living in harmony with Christ’s standards may enable us to experience God’s forgiveness, but we never earn it.
- 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.
- 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.
- We will inevitably focus our resources of heart, soul, mind, and strength on what or whom we love the most.
- Grace draws the one to whom it is extended closer to the One expressing it.
- We are ultimately controlled by whatever we love the most.
- 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.
- When his delight is our greatest joy, we give our lives in fullest measure to his purposes.
- Since God is entirely holy, we cannot earn his approval based upon our efforts.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- Grace not only promotes grateful devotion but also derails self-serving pride.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- God’s grace motivates our behavior; our behavior does not manufacture his grace.
- God’s gracious claim on us is our greatest cause for serving him.
- What we do must not determine who we are, but who we are by God’s grace should determine what we do.
- Grace justifies guilty sinners so that they have Jesus’s guiltless status before God.
- Though our sin pollutes us, we are sanctified by God’s grace so that he can use us for his holy purposes.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Holy identity comes before holy imperatives. This order never varies in Scripture: imperatives are based on our identity.
- Obedience is always a response to God’s grace, and not a way of gaining it.
- 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.
- Jesus does not love any child (young or old) because the child is good. Jesus loves his children because he is good.
- The message that Jesus loves us because we are good denies that the cross was either necessary or sufficient.
- Our obedience does not determine who we are. His grace does.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Our eternal relationship with God is a consequence of trusting in Christ’s death and resurrection—plus nothing.
- Duty and doctrine dispensed without grace can create only two possible human responses: pride and despair.
- We sin not because we don’t love Christ at all but because we don’t love him above all.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- If we truly love Jesus, we love what and whom he loves.
- His grace gets us into his kingdom, maintains us in the kingdom, and secures us for the kingdom.
- Every text relates some aspect of God’s redeeming grace that finds its fullest expression in Christ.
- 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.
- 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).
- Jesus loves us not because we are good but because he is.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- The gospel is not a balance between law and grace. It is the good news of grace that results in grateful lives of godliness.
- While teaching (or implying) that obedience can merit grace is certainly unbiblical and damaging, not teaching what God commands is equally unbiblical and uncaring.
- True obedience is always a loving response to God’s grace, rather than a vain attempt to earn it.
- When we love God above all, fulfillment of his purposes is our greatest reward.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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 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 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 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 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.
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:
- The first and most important thing I have to tell you is this: It matters less what you say than that you say something.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- Don’t assume you know what someone else is feeling.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The truth is, most people process grief through talking.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- There is nothing like getting handwritten notes and cards in the mail. Nothing.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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:
- The true object of prayer is to carry our thoughts directly to God, whether to celebrate his praise or implore his aid.
- God is to be invoked only in the name of Christ. We pray to God in the name of Christ alone.
- The Lord’s Prayer contains everything that we can or ought to ask of God.
- 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.
- One of the requisites of legitimate prayer is repentance.
- 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.
- 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.
- Christ is the only Mediator between God and man. It is manifest sacrilege to offer prayer to others.
- The principle we must always hold is, that in all prayer, public and private, the tongue without the mind must be displeasing to God.
- 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: 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 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:
- Appendix A: Christoplatonism’s False Assumptions
- Appendix B: Literal and Figurative Interpretation
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- We should stop thinking of Heaven and Earth as opposites and instead view them as overlapping circles that share certain commonalities.
- Our incorrect thinking about bodily resurrection stems from our failure to understand the environment in which resurrected people will live—the New Earth.
- 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.
- We will experience continuity between our current lives and our resurrected lives, with the same memories and relational histories.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Nothing demonstrates how far we’ve distanced ourselves from our biblical calling like our lack of knowledge about our destiny to rule the earth.
- It’s a common but serious mistake to spiritualize the eternal Kingdom of God.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
50 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:
- It’s no surprise that when the apostle Paul lists typical sins, half his list belongs to the anger family (Galatians 5:19–21).
- The most immediate anger problem for many people is not what they do, but what someone else does to them.
- Irritability is anger on a hair trigger.
- Arguing is the disagreeable “he said, she said” of interpersonal friction.
- Bitterness expresses how anger can last a long, long time.
- Passive anger hides behind surface appearances and even beneath conscious awareness.
- 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.
- Anger always makes a value judgment. Anger is always a moral matter.
- What is anger? It’s the way we react when something we think important is not the way it’s supposed to be.
- Anger is a feeling of distress, trouble, and hatred.
- Anger is the attitude of judgment, legal condemnation, and moral displeasure. But judgment can show good judgment—and even mercy.
- 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.
- Anger has an object, a target.
- 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.
- Anger is a weapon to coerce, intimidate, and manipulate others—and it is a shield to defend yourself.
- Anger happens for reasons that arise from who we are and what we want.
- Anger occurs not only in your body, emotions, thoughts, and actions. It comes from your deepest motives.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Our anger is natural. It is a capacity given by creation in the image of the God who is just.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- You can’t “do” anger right without the constructive displeasure of mercy.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- You can never really understand yourself (or God, or other people) unless you understand both sin and the wrath of God.
- The constructive displeasure of mercy makes God’s anger your friend.
- Naturally those who repent of an angry critical spirit become full of mercy.
- Anger is provoked. Anger has an occasion. Anger is about something. Anger flares up for some reason, in some specific time and place.
- 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.
- Anger has consequences. It creates feedback loops, vicious circles. The Bible uses a vivid metaphor: you reap what you sow.
- Studies seem to show that angry people have a higher incidence of heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Jesus tells it to us straight: grumbling is a most serious sin, a capital crime, a primal offense against the God whose universe this.
- From Jesus’s point of view, all everyday disgust and negativity shares DNA with murder, after all.
- 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.
- There is something instinctive, irrational, compulsive, and virulent about anger at God.
- Anger at God is not first an emotion. It is the stance a person takes, a core commitment of the heart.
- Anger at God is wrong. It overflows with mistrust toward God. The presence of anger depends on the presence of evil.
- Wherever there is evil, you find anger. Where there is no evil, you find no anger. No possibility of anger.
- 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 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: 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 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 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:
- 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.
- The general rule is that those who listen most and speak least will be the most useful to sufferers.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Depression afflicts the strong and the weak, the clever and the simple, those with a happy temperament and those of a melancholy temperament.
- 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.
- 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.
- Everyone feels sad from time to time, but depression-related sadness is overwhelming and long-term.
- 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.
- (Those who are depressed) may start doing things that make them feel worse, like staying indoors, drinking alcohol, or pushing away people who care.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?”
- Christians are obliged to challenge falsehood and distortions of reality, especially when they find them in themselves.
- 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.
- 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.
- The more you understand depression, the less likely it is that you will say hurtful and damaging things.
- 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.
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:
- Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for Those Who Suffer from Depression by Zack Eswine
- Anxious for Nothing by John MacArthur.
- Spiritual Depression by Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
- Deserted by God? by Sinclair Ferguson
Are there other resources related to depression that you have found helpful? Please share them with us.
If 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 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 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 Souls: God’s Design for Love, Marriage, Sex and Redemption by Matt Chandler. David C. Cook. 224 pages. 2015
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:
- Never respond to your mate rashly.
- Never touch your mate out of temper or frustration, ever.
- Never seek to shame your spouse in public (or in private for that matter).
- Never fight in front of your kids (or use them as leverage in a disagreement).
- Never mention your spouse’s parents or any other family member.
- Never dig up the past; try to stay on topic.
- Never try to win.
- Never yell, use put-downs, or verbally defame your spouse.
- Never withhold physical intimacy or use sex to manipulate.
- 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 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.
- Look to the Bible as your guidebook and to Christ as the living example for your marriage
- Stay in sync spiritually
- Manage expectations and appreciate your differences
- Work as a team
- Practice committed love
- Communicate well and often
- Don’t run away from conflict
- 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 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”:
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.
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.
Sermons 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 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.
Onward: 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: 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 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 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 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 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 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.
We 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.
Word + 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 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.
Prayer: 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:
- Entering into God’s presence through the access obtained for us in Christ’s sacrificial death.
- Worshiping and adoring God for all that he is.
- Praising and thanking God for all that he does.
- Humbling ourselves before God because of what we are, and confessing our sin and failure.
- Supplicating at God’s throne and petitioning him for the good things for which we are totally dependent on him.
- 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Identity. What is the church in general? Who are we as a church in particular?
- Authority. On a practical level, from whom do we as a church receive our marching orders? How does a church make decisions?
- Ecumenicity. How should one church relate to other churches?
- 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.
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:
- Biblical authority
- Divine Presence
- Pulpit priority
- Sequential Exposition
- Diligent Mind
- Devoted heart
- Relentless will
- Direct beginning
- Extemporaneous delivery
- Scriptural context
- Stated theme
- Specific text
- Exegetical precision
- Literal interpretation
- Persuasive reasoning
- Reasonable deductions
- Familiar words
- Vivid expressions
- Provocative questions.
- Simple Restatements
- Limited quotations
- Unspoken outline
- Seamless transitions
- Focused intensity
- Pastoral exhortation
- Personal examination
- Loving rebuke
- Polemic confrontation
- Succinct summation
- Pressing appeal
- 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.
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.”
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 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.
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:
- To teach and train children to use the Internet and their devices responsibly.
- To guard children from seeing or experiencing what they do not know exists.
- 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.
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