Category Archives: Book Reviews

Transforming Grace

You know you don’t  understand God’s grace when you:

  • Live with a vague sense of His disapproval.
  • Feel sheepish bringing your needs before Him when you’ve just failed Him.
  • Think of His grace as something that makes up the difference between the best you can do and what He expects from you.
  • Feel you deserve an answer to prayer because of your hard work and sacrifice.
  • Assume that 1 John 1:9 no longer applies to you now that you’ve sinned so many times you’ve used up all your credit.
  • Feel more confident before Him if you’ve been “faithful” with your Christian disciplines (prayer, quiet time, witnessing, etc.)
  • Can’t honestly say you see yourself as “blameless” in His eyes.
  • Aren’t experiencing consistent peace and joy in your Christian life.
  • Don’t really believe He likes you.
  • Can think of someone you look down on.
  • Shy away from asking Him for things because you think it annoys Him.
  • Haven’t recently been tempted to go ahead and sin because you know your performance has nothing to do with your standing before Him.
  • Think of the Christian life as “the cost of discipleship” rather than the chance to experience an unending supply of His goodness toward you.
  • Fear that the day may not go as well as expected because you missed your quiet time.
  • Assume you can do something to make Him love you more or less.
  • Believe you’ve been called into His service because of your worthiness or qualifications.

From the inside flap of Jerry Bridge’s book, Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love. Purchase from Amazon here:

Top-10 Books 2012

It’s the time of year when just about every blog is posting their end of the year lists and for me that means an annual top-10 books list.  I’ve listed them below along with a few that just barely missed the cut.  In spite of (yes that’s right) having to read 2000 pages for seminary classes, I still wanted to be sure I was taking time to read devotionally, some good advice for fellow seminarians.

  1. The Transforming Power of the Gospel by Jerry Bridges – This was a tough choice for number 1, having just barely beat out Lloyd-Jones.  In my opinion, this book was an excellent look at grace and the gospel in the lives of the believer.  Bridges addresses the common misconception that the gospel is for unbelievers only and believers upon their conversion move past it to bigger and better things.  As he shows, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  From my favorite chapter, “Motivated by the Gospel”: “a response of gratitude and love toward Christ that compels and impels us to live not for ourselves but for Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.” Excellent!
  2. Spiritual Depression by Martyn Lloyd-Jones – This year, I was really introduced more to the writings of the good Doctor.  Having only ready The Plight of Man and the Power of God, I really had nothing much to go on other than his reputation.  With 2 of his books in this year’s top-10, suffice to say I am a huge fan now.  Spiritual Depression was for me balm to the soul.  It should be on every “must-read” list.
  3. Life in Christ: Studies in First John by Martyn Lloyd-Jones – The second of MLJ from this year was actually a carryover from 2011, but due to its length (736 pages), it made its way into 2012 for me.  I primarily bought this as a pastoral commentary while teaching through First John, but it became much, much more.  This book, 5 volumes in 1, are the sermons of MLJ as he taught through John’s first epistle and it is so theologically rich and edifying.  Jones has a way of speaking right to the heart of his readers, be it for exhortation to holiness or edification for growing in one’s love for Christ.
  4. Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons by Thabiti Anyabwile – From 9 Marks, this book by Thabiti addresses a much needed area within Christian literature today, namely books on the leadership of our churches.  Highlighting the main scriptural passages on this subject (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1), Thabiti spells out biblical qualifications for elders and deacons.  Of key interest is the establishment of elders as shepherds under the Shepherd, which places both feeding and protection as chief roles of the elder.  As you would expect from 9 Marks, a balanced approach is taken, including pointing out difficulties with unfaithful leaders, “But unfaithful shepherds and hirelings have only the fearful expectation of judgment.  God the Father will not look lightly upon either the dutiful service or the neglect of sheep purchased with the blood of his Son.”
  5. Same Sex Controversy by James R. White and Jeffrey D. Niell– I read this book with the express intent of being conversant with the homosexual marriage movement and it didn’t disappoint.  Dr. White not only points out clear biblical evidence in support of traditional marriage between a man and a women, but he also addresses many of the contemporary arguments made by gay marriage proponents who take Scripture out of context, particularly those OT Levitical passages, which many assume are irrelevant to the discussion.  This is an easy to follow book that will help you answer many questions and defend God’s covenant of marriage. Additionally, it left me with a hunger to pursue additional study of OT law.
  6. What is the Mission of the Church by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert – If I had read this book a couple years ago, I would’ve had more Scriptural evidence to support my beliefs about social justice written here: Is Social Justice Biblical?.  Subtitled: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Comission, this book addresses a contemporary problem in the evangelical church today, namely, what is her mission?  Too often there is confusion to the exclusion.  What I mean is too often churches are confused about their mission: should they evangelize, disciple, promote social justice, culture change, etc. to the point that they choose 1 and exclude the others.  This really is a good book and DeYoung/Gilbert do an excellent job of expressing biblical concern over some more liberal expressions of social justice without offending.  That seems to be a good reminder of the tone we (I) should take in these conversations.  Instead of writing the post I linked, I would’ve just said read this book (but it hadn’t yet been published!).
  7. The Doctrine of Repentance by Thomas Watson – Watson is one of my favorite Puritans because his writing style offers profound insights without overcomplicated language, which can be the case with other popular Puritans.  Watson’s style, combined with the topic of repentance, makes for a very profitable book.  He basically builds his thesis for true repentance by describing what “Counterfeit Repentance” is, concluding that genuine repentance “is a spiritual medicine made up of six special ingredients: 1. Sight of sin 2. Sorrow for Sin 3. Confession of Sin 4. Shame for Sin 5. Hatred for Sin 6. Turning from Sin.  If anyone is left out it loses its virtue.”  Insights like these are what makes the Puritans so valuable to read.  This one by Watson is a must.
  8. Brothers We Are Not Professionals by John Piper – Surprisingly, this year was my first exposure to the written works of John Piper.  Having greatly benefitted from his preaching ministry on DesiringGod.com this was just my second book of his (In the Theatre with Calvin the first).  Yes, I was outspoken about his partnership with Rick Warren, but I think it is unfair to completely write off everything from Piper.  His Romans series is far too valuable to pass up and it seems much of His written works follow suit.  This entire book is essentially an exhortation to pastors not to professionalize their position, but instead to feed, exhort, and protect the sheep.  The chapters are short, so I approached this as a devotional book and it had some excellent, valuable chapters such as: “Bitzer was a Banker”, “Show Your People Why God Inspired Hard Texts”, “Save the Saints”, “Magnify the Meaning of Baptism”, and “Blow the Trumpet for the Unborn”, among others.
  9. Anxious for Nothing by John MacArthur – This was a timely book for me and no doubt God providentially brought it in my path at the right time because it was a free gift for signing up for the GraceToYou newsletter.  As MacArthur rightly notes, at its root, anxiety and stress are sin, because they are a failure to trust in God.  He wisely points this out and then sets our feet on a biblical path to address our stress head-on.  Of several solutions, 3 I found extremely helpful are 1) A focus on the Psalms, particularly those in which the psalmist is bearing his soul before the Lord in a distressed state.  Ultimately, the Word of God is a sword in our hand during times of battle.  In times of anxiety or stress we can turn to those passages that help us wield the sword most effectively. 2) Prayer is essential to combating stress because it allows opportunity to confess the reliance upon self and petition for strength to rely upon God. 3) Thanksgiving.  This has been perhaps my biggest take away from the book and it is largely due to an emphasis MacArthur placed on Philippians 4:6-8, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  Notice the contrast of anxiousness with “prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
  10. The Prayers of Jeremiah by Paul Thomas Sharp – I read Tom Sharp’s book early in 2012 as a morning devotional.  Mr. Sharp has addressed a difficult subject, Old Testament prophecy, by highlighting the numerous prayers of Jeremiah and formatting his book into an instructive, yet expositional, bible study.  Not only do the chapter introductory questions help remove preconceived notions and encourage reading without commentaries, but the summary chapter questions allow for reflection on the passages and prayers studied.  This is an excellent book, because unlike other books on prayer, Mr. Sharp’s places the focus squarely on the One to whom we are praying, God.

Here are a few more that you may want to check out:

The Backslider – Andrew Fuller

The Hidden Life of Prayer – David McIntyre

Saving Faith – A.W. Pink

Carrying over into 2013:

A Christian in Complete Armor – William Gurnall

Desiring God – John Piper

A Praying Life – Paul Miller

Praying through the Psalms

Recently I finished reading a book on prayer called The Hidden Life of Prayer, by David McIntyre, an excellent book on stirring up affections for God in prayer, something no doubt we all need more of.  Tim Challies previously (June, ’12) read through this book with his blog audience (you can get caught up with them here: http://www.challies.com/writings/reading-classics-together) and he is largely the reason I found out about this book and decided to give it a read.

I’d noticed recently that my prayer times seemed to be comprised mainly of petitions and while this is certainly important, I was leaving out an even more important part of prayer, worship.  I decided to take the Kindle version of this book with me while on vacation a couple weeks ago and read through most all of it.  Early on, one particular statement stuck with me as McIntyre was making reference to George Muller.  He said that Muller “confessed that often he could not pray until he had steadied his mind upon a text.”  McIntyre then followed up with a rhetorical of his own, “Is it not the prerogative of God to break the silence?” and he quoted Psalm 27:8, “When Thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto Thee, Thy face Lord, will I seek.”  This little reference to Muller along with McIntyre’s own comment and use of the Psalm caused me to immediately rethink my prayer life.  Instead of not always knowing what to say, other than petitions, it seemed clear that I should focus on a particular passage before entering into prayer with the Lord.

Like me, you may have heard before about praying Scripture back to God and while this may be beneficial to some, it always seemed impersonal to me.  So to blend the thought of focusing on a passage of Scripture first, praying Scripture back to God, but also maintaining the personal communication of a son to his Heavenly Father, I began reading through Psalm 1 with the purpose of looking for 1) Something the psalmist declares or affirms about God 2) a general statement that could be applied in my own life through prayer.  I say general here because there are some things that the psalmists, particularly David, pray to God that I don’t feel apply to me personally.  While each word in the Bible is important and necessary to understand in its context, application, etc. remember this isn’t for Bible study or even Bible reading, it’s for prayer.  My purpose was not exegetical, but to focus on communing with God.  Keep it simple, otherwise you’ll find yourself trying to figure out nuances of the passage and skip right over prayer with God.  Save the commentaries and study Bibles for a separate time of study or reflection on the passage you are praying through.

Here’s an example of how this might work:

Psalm 1:1-6

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

Applied to one’s own prayer:

Father guide my steps to walk not according to the counsel of the wicked, but the way of the righteous.  Surround me with godly influences and relationships that will encourage, edify and rebuke me when necessary.  Lord move my heart such that I take delight in your law.  Help me to live knowing that Christ is the fulfillment of that law for me and that instead of being under its curse I can now delight in it.  How righteous and holy are your ways Father.  Cause my mind to meditate on Your word day and night.  May it be the first thing on my mind in the morning and the last thing on my mind at night.  Help me to be like the tree that David speaks of, planted by the streams of water, so that I may bear fruit in season….

A Psalm a day, to focus your mind upon the things of God and serve as introduction into prayer with Him.  If you move on from the Psalms, maybe a good follow up would be the prayers of the Bible using the same practice.