HERE I STAND: A LIFE OF MARTIN LUTHER – Roland Bainton (1950)

•July 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

1426754434_bMy copy of Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther is falling apart.  I first read this classic back in 1998.  At that time, Luther’s life and legacy were still very new to me.  Now over fifteen years later, the story is no less exciting.  In fact, it just keeps getting better.

Bainton’s work is clearly the best biographical overview of Luther’s life.  The book walks readers through the humble beginning of Luther’s life as the son of a coal miner, his induction into an Augustinian monastery, radical conversion, and his courageous work as a reformer.

Bainton writes objectively and is not afraid to show Luther’s warts and weaknesses.  Luther’s theological development emerges in these pages which give readers a context for the blossoming Protestant Reformation.

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther should sit proudly on every theologian’s shelf.  Read it for inspiration, education, and fuel for the soul!

 

 

ESSENTIALISM: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – Greg McKeown (2014)

•July 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment

0804137382_bIn the late 80′s I read Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  That was a profound experience as Covey revealed areas of weakness that needed to be excavated in my life.  A similar thing happened as I poured over the pages of Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

McKeown sets forth his basic proposal at the beginning of the book.  It’s what he calls the basic value proposition of Essentialism: “Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.”

The author essentially argues that business leaders who attempt to fit more and more into their lives have a tendency to decrease their effectiveness.  Many leaders run from one meeting to the next and never really get anything accomplished that matters.  The ladder to the top is time-consuming and requires a ton of sacrifice.  The problem is that most people sacrifice the wrong things and consequently place the truly important things – like family, friends, and faith on the wrong altar.  The end result of a life of frustration and regret.

The path of Essentialism is a totally different paradigm.  The Essentialist asks, “Am I participating in the right activities?”  The Essentialist learns to tell the difference between activities that make a lasting impact from the ones that merely steal time.  “Essentialism,” argues the author, “is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.  It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either.  It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”

At the heart of McKeown’s book is a refreshing strategy for daily living: “Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.”  As such, the book militates against much of what most leaders consider to be conventional wisdom.  Much of the book, then, is counterintuitive as it jettisons the typical workaholic approach to effectiveness in the marketplace – especially in America.

The book is comprised of four parts.  Part one, Essence, describes the core mind-set of an essentialist.  Part two, Explore, helps readers determine which activities are trivial and which ones are considered a part of the “vital few.”  Part three, Eliminate, discusses how we can cut out the trivial from our lives.  And part four, Execute, provides practical help for engaging in the necessary activities.

Essentialism is not a “how to” book.  It merely provides the philosophical framework that helps ensure effectiveness without sacrifices the things that really matter in life.  But this framework is worth embracing and building into the fabric of one’s life.  I found the book stimulating, encouraging, mind-bending, and even convicting at times.

Essentialism stand among the best reads of 2014.  I heartily recommend it!

I received this book free from the publisher through the Bloggingforbooks.org. I was not required to write a positive review.

GOD’S USE OF AFFLICTION – Jonathan Edwards (1753)

•July 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

jonathan-edwardsJonathan Edwards sets out in this sermon to exposit a passage in the book of Job:

“Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves;  therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty.” (Job 5:17, ESV)

Doctrine

Three doctrinal propositions mark this very short sermon which was contextualized to reach the Stockbridge Indians with power and effectiveness:

  1. 1. Afflictions that are brought on men in this world are from the hand of God.

2. Afflictions are brought on men for sin.

3. How the man is said to be happy whom God correcteth.

The Puritan divine notes two specific improvements (application):

Improvements

1. A warning or counsel.

One sentence explains Edwards heart before his congregation: “Their hearts are not convinced, not humbled; [their] will is not bowed to God’s will, not weaned from the world, [and] not weaned from sin: only a refraining from sin, not removing it, [so that] if God lightens his hand, [they] will turn to it again.

2. A special enforcement, that ’tis chastening of the Almighty.

Edwards argues that God is sufficient to help and strengthen his people as they endure any affliction.  He adds, “[God is] able to do all things for us, if we yield to him under affliction and comply with his will.  [He can] support [and] strengthen [us under chastisement, and so] cause [it] to work for good.  [God can] abundantly more than make up [for our sufferings; he can] deliver [us from it, and] make us happy.  [He can] give the blessed fruit of affliction, [and] bestow that far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”

In typical Edwardsean fashion, the New England preacher restores the hope and perspective of any listener or reader who will submit himself or herself to God.

Soli Deo Gloria!

 

CENTER CHURCH – Tim Keller (2012)

•July 10, 2014 • 1 Comment

kellerI have been reading books about the church for almost thirty years now.  Most of the best material is being churned out by Mark Dever and the boys at 9Marks.  Tim Keller’s, Center Church is a welcome guest in the growing list of books on ecclesiology.

Keller sets out to communicate one central message which is summed up in the subtitle: Doing Balanced Gospel-Centered Ministry in the City.  Center Church is encyclopedic in nature.  It covers every subject conceivable and is a helpful tool in every pastors prospective tool chest.

The discussion about gospel contextualization (chapter 7) is deeply encouraging and highly instructive.  The author notes, “Contextualization is not – as is often argued – ‘giving people what they want to hear.’  Rather, it is giving people the Bible’s answers, which they may not at all want to hear, to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking, in language and forms they can comprehend, and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel, even if they reject them..”

Keller warns against the temptation to use contextualization as a clever means of compromise (which I find many pastors doing).  He adds, “The call to contextualize the gospel has been – and still often is – used as a cover for religious syncretism.  This means not adapting the gospel to a particular culture, but rather surrendering the gospel entirely and morphing Christianity into a different religion by over-adapting it to an alien worldview.”

Center Church is filled with helpful instruction on doing gospel ministry in the city.  It is a long read but worth plodding through for the treasures along the way.

Highly recommended for pastors who love the gospel!

TURNING ADVERSITY INTO OPPORTUNITY – James Kouzes and Barry Posner (2014)

•July 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

James Kouzes and Barry Posner have been offering help to leaders for years now.  Their seminal works, The 1118911296_bLeadership Challenge, Credibility, and the Truth About Leadership have helped me immensely as I grow personally and pastorally as a leader.  Indeed, thousands of leaders have gained great insight from the works of Kouzes and Posner.

The newest treasure by these fine men is entitled Turning Adversity Into Opportunity.  The book is short but don’t let the size fool you.  Like their other works, this little book is definitely worthy of a careful read.

The book is built on the premise that leadership is hard; leadership is lonely.  But leaders navigate their way through difficult storms and actually use the stormy days as a catalyst for success.  Kouzes and Posner present six strategies for turning adversity into opportunity:

  1. Broaden the Context
  2. Defy the Verdict
  3. Fully Commit to What’s Important
  4. Take Charge of Change
  5. Engage Others
  6. Show You Care

My hope is that these six principles will attract interested readers who will devour the content and learn how to turn adversity into opportunity.  At the end of the day, Kouzes and Posner invite readers to embrace adversity for a purpose.  In what proves to be the most important sentence in the book, the authors add, “Let’s get excited about the adversities.  Yes, that’s right – excited.  They are not brick walls.  They are turning points.  They are there to ask you what you want and how badly you want it.  Let’s embrace the chance to make a difference.”

Onward!

GRACE WORKS – Douglas Bond (2014)

•July 4, 2014 • Leave a Comment

2014-06-18 18.19.31

Several months ago, I titled a sermon  Grace Works based on Titus 2:11-14.   Verse 11  reminds us that grace has appeared in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This grace has saved us.  This grace has transported every believer from death to life.    This grace saves us, sanctifies us, and secures our future with Christ.  Indeed, grace works!  So when I learned about the new book by Douglas Bond, entitled Grace Works I requested a copy from a company I write reviews for.  It was a great decision!

Douglas Bond is concerned; deeply concerned.  He along with a handful of evangelicals including R.C. Sproul, J.I. Packer, Jerry Bridges, John Piper, and Tim Keller are concerned that the gospel is being eclipsed by works-based righteousness.  John Calvin had a similar concern in the 16th century: “We must exercise the utmost caution lest we allow any counterfeit to be substituted for the pure doctrine of the gospel.”

Douglas Bond alerts Christ-followers to this gospel counterfeit in his latest book, Grace Works.  The author shows how this counterfeit gospel has emerged throughout church history.  He demonstrates the subtle shift that took place in European churches that once glowed with Reformation fervor.  He cites several examples of how the gospel has been distorted and continues to be distorted in the contemporary church.

At the heart of the book lies a concern that many believers appear to be confused about the biblical gospel.  While many give lip-service to the doctrine of justification by faith alone, many continue to add requirements which muddy the “waters of grace” in the final analysis.

The author cites Tim Keller approvingly who says, “It is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance.”  Bond adds, “Every other religion requires performance before the verdict.  But in the gospel, Christ has stooped down and perfectly obeyed for us, as our substitute.  Jesus the righteous one was righteous in our place.  By the grace of the gospel, performance will follow, but in justification the verdict is already in: we are forever righteous in Christ.  That is immeasurably good news!”

Yet, a stunning number of professing evangelicals are repudiating justification by faith alone by adding requirements which is tantamount to a works-based approach.  The road back to Rome may be paved with good intentions, but thoughtful observers can hear the gnashing of teeth.

Bond warns readers of the subtle ways that law creeps into the gospel, especially when pastors and Christian leaders make obedience a requirement for justifying grace.    Bond adds, “Serious error arises when trusting and obeying are required as concurrent actions the sinner must do in the context of his justification.  Trusting is not sufficient – which is the same as saying that faith alone is not sufficient; you must also obey the law to win God’s final favor.”  Several examples are cited and once again readers are warned to flee from the works-based system of Rome.

Douglas Bond is to be commended for writing a book that is timely, especially in light of the so-called New Perspective on Paul movement.  The gospel shines brightly in Grace Works.  The doctrines which were rediscovered by the Protestant Reformers are put on display.  The law is put in its proper place as a tutor which leads us to Christ.  Readers are reminded that the law cannot justify; nor can the law sanctify.

My hope is that Grace Works receives a wide readership and that thousands of people will be equipped in gospel-centered reality.  My hope is that many will see the errors of the Roman road; that they will turn back and swim in the waters of free grace and be refreshed by the sola’s of the Reformation!

I received this book free from the publisher through the NetGalley.  I was not required to write a positive review.

Highly recommended!

JONATHAN EDWARDS AND THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD

•July 3, 2014 • Leave a Comment

“We must cultivate  a calm and quiet submission of soul to the sovereign pleasure of God.”

- Jonathan Edwards, The Sole Consideration, That God is God, Sufficient to Still All Objections to His Sovereignty (Banner of Truth, p. 107)

 
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