The Vanishing American Adult – Ben Sasse (2017)

sasseBen Sasse, The Vanishing American Adult New York: St. Martins Press, 2017, 306 pp. $16.75

Senator Ben Sasse is concerned. He is concerned about the next generation. To put it bluntly, Sasse argues in so many words that we are experiencing a crisis of maturity. Young people are being raised to be lazy, self-indulgent, ungrateful, and unproductive citizens.

The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse focusses on “rebuilding a culture comprised of resilient, literate, thoughtful individuals.” Tragically, many Americans fail to achieve this high standard. In a fascinating twist of irony, one of the first reviews I read on Amazon (which incidentally rated this book with one star) weighed in: “Did not hold my attention. I got very bored.” Such a comment only heightens the appeal that Sasse makes and should prompt this reviewer to reconsider.

After brilliantly articulating our propensity to be passive, Sasse proposes five character building habits:

  1. Discover the body its potential and its frailty, and the many diverse stages of life that lie ahead – by breaking free of the tyranny of one generation.
  2. Develop a work ethic.
  3. Embrace limited consumption.
  4. Learn how to travel and to travel light.
  5. Learn how to read and decide what to read.

The author develops each character building habits and provides “stepping stones” at the conclusion of each chapter. Readers who participate will no doubt be encouraged and will likely take great steps to repudiate the prevailing passivity that dominates American culture.

The Vanishing American Adult is a much-needed corrective and will benefit many readers. The crisis that Senator Sasse presents is real and dangerous. Left unchecked, this crisis will lead to the the steady erosion of American culture and the loss of virtue. Thankfully, Sasse offer workable solutions to “stop the bleeding.” My hope is that many will listen, learn, and change. The future generations will thank us.

What Can a 508-Year Old Man Teach Us?

July 10, 2017 marks the 508th birthday of John Calvin.  But the streamers and balloons are nowhere to be found.  Simply put, we live in a day that is so wrapped up in technology and new inventions that we tend to forget the lessons of the past, especially the lessons of dead guy.

Calvin’s life was a pilgrimage that was characterized by God’s providential grace.  It was God’s providential grace that led him from place to place, equipping him for a lifetime of ministry.  It was God’s providential grace that sustained him during his period of exile and sheltered him through the storm.  It was God’s providential grace that empowered him to write and preach and shepherd the people of God for the glory of God.  It was God’s providential grace that brought Calvin “through many dangers, toils and snares.”  Indeed, it was God’s providential grace that rescued his soul from hell and seated him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6).  And it was God’s providential grace that led Calvin to assume a particular posture that is best articulated in Isaiah 66:1-2.

Notice three things about the Genevan Reformer.  First, Calvin was a humble man.  C.J. Mahaney lays bare the heart of a humble man: “Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.”  And the Scriptures demand this kind of humility.  “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Pet. 3:8, ESV).

Calvin was humble before his God.  He understood that he was a recipient of God’s grace (Rom. 3:24) and that he had been saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (Eph. 2:8-9).  Consequently, he understood that his only boast was in the cross-work of Christ (1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 6:14).  Calvin understood the absolute contrast between the sinfulness of man and the majesty of God, what many have referred to as the Creator-creature distinction.  He writes, “Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God.”

Calvin was humble before people.  He understood that humility is the foundation of Christian character.  The libertines of the 16th century were naming their dogs after Calvin – but Calvin remained humble despite the hatred hoisted upon him.  Calvin opines, “I have always been exceedingly delighted with the words of Chrysostom, ‘The foundation of our philosophy is humility’ and still more with those of Augustine.  If asked, ‘What are the precepts of Christianity?’ I will answer, ‘First, humility, second and third humility.”

Second, Calvin was a contrite man.  The contrite is one who is “stricken, smitten, or crushed in spirit.”  John Calvin was a man of Christ-exalting contrition.  His contrition was Christ-exalting because he knew that Christ was the One he had offended and that Christ alone could free him from his sin.  No work could forgive him, no prayer could forgive him; no priest could forgive him.

As beneficiaries of the Protestant Reformation, this is a truth we too often take for granted.  Even worse, some professing Evangelicals have begun to subtly fall under the spell of the Roman Catholic Church and either forget free grace or ignore it all together.  Perhaps it is time for a new Reformation; a radical rekindling of the precious truths that drove Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, and Knox to their knees in contrition as they celebrated the free grace that was theirs in Christ alone!

Third, Calvin trembled at God’s Word.  He revered the truth of God’s Word.  Steve Lawson adds, “Calvin stood firmly on the chief cornerstone of the Reformation – sola Scriptura, or ‘Scripture alone.’  He believed Scripture was the verbum Dei – the Word of God – and it alone should regulate church life, not popes, councils, or traditions.  Sola Scriptura identified the Bible as the sole authority of God in His church, and Calvin wholeheartedly embraced it, insisting that the Bible was the authoritative, inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God.”

Calvin responded to the truth of God’s Word.  He was a sinful man who had a heart that desperately sought to respond obediently to the Word of God.  To that end, he preached the Word of God faithfully with all the passion he could muster!

Calvin rejoiced in the truth of God’s Word – even difficult doctrines.  He rejoiced in difficult doctrines like predestination and conscious eternal punishment.  He rejoiced in mysterious doctrines like the Trinity and the hypostatic union.  And he rejoiced in paradoxical doctrines like the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man.

So what can a 508-year-old man teach us?

Calvin understood that people are transformed by truth

We live in an age where technique is king and pragmatism is queen.  The church has fallen prey to this vicious cycle.  We tend to do what works and invest in what brings results.  Steve Lawson writes, “The church is always looking for better methods in order to reach the world.  But God is looking for better men who will devote themselves to his biblically mandated method for advancing his kingdom, namely, preaching – and not just any kind of preaching, but expository preaching.”  In a day when preaching is being downplayed and theology is being ignored, we need to remember what Calvin understood, namely, people are transformed by truth.

Calvin understood and modeled the need for courage in times of adversity and persecution

Calvin lived in a time when Protestants were being burned at the stake because they were being transformed by the truth.  He was committed to boldly proclaiming the truth no matter what the cost.    Calvin adds, “If, while conscious of our innocence, we are deprived of our substance by the wickedness of man, we are, no doubt, humanly speaking, reduced to poverty; but in truth our riches in heaven are increased: if driven from our homes, we have a more welcome reception into the family of God; if vexed and despised, we are more firmly rooted in Christ; if stigmatized by disgrace and ignominy, we have a higher place in the kingdom of God; and if we are slain, entrance is thereby given us to eternal life.  The Lord having set such a price upon us, let us be ashamed to estimate ourselves at less than the shadowy and evanescent allurements of the present life.”

Calvin reminds us of the sinfulness of humans and the utter need for God’s grace

The flaws in Calvin himself remind us of the sinfulness of sin.  He was deeply aware of his own sin.  But he was also acutely aware of the reality of grace.  His life bears witness to this: He was simul iustus et peccator – simultaneously righteous and sinful..

Calvin reminds us what one man on a mission can accomplish in Christ’s strength

My good friend and colleague, Pastor Wayne Pickens rightly says, “God uses people to reach people.”  God used an ordinary man for an extraordinary purpose.  Or as David Hall writes, “A single man with heart aflame changed the world.”

Calvin reminds us of the sufficiency of Christ and his work on the cross for sinners

The cry of Calvin’s heart was the Lord Jesus Christ.  He constantly pointed sinners to Christ and his cross.

May the life of John Calvin serve as an inspiration to live the Christian life with vibrancy to the glory of God.  May his courage embolden each of us in the difficult days ahead.  When the days grow dark, persecutions escalate, and our freedoms begin to erode, may we remember the motto still etched in Genevan stone, “post tenebras lux,” after darkness light.  May his humility, contrition, and trembling before the Word of God mark our lives as well.  And may the contemporary pulpit be a reflection of Calvin’s pulpit; may men of God stand behind the sacred desk and faithfully deliver to unchanging truths of Scripture so that saints might be strengthened, edified, convicted, encouraged, and equipped!

Calvin agrees, “Let them edify the body of Christ.  Let them devastate Satan’s reign.  Let them pasture the sheep, kill the wolves, instruct and exhort the rebellious.  Let them bind and loose, thunder and lightning, if necessary, but let them do all according to the Word of God.”

The Preciousness of Time – Jonathan Edwards (1734)

Time is a precious commodity that must be treasured.  Such is the argument in jonathan-edwardsJonathan Edward’s piece entitled, The Preciousness of Time and the Importance of Redeeming It.

The subject of time was no stranger to Edwards.  He thought about the “improvement” of time often.  Even in his famous 70 resolutions, he addressed the matter of time.

Resolution # 5

Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most

profitable way I possibly can.

It would serve us well, then, to consider the precious matter of time from Jonathan Edwards’ perspective.

Section 1: Why Time is Precious

Jonathan Edwards states four reasons why time is precious.

  1. Because a happy or miserable eternity depends on the good or ill improvement of it.
  2. Time is very short, which is another thing that renders it very precious.
  3. Time ought to be esteemed by us very precious, because we are uncertain of its continuance.
  4. Time is very precious, because when it is past, it cannot be recovered.

Edwards argues in respect to to time, “…When once that [time] is gone, it is gone for ever; no pains; no cost will recover it.”  So typical is this eternal perspective that flows so freely from the pen of the Northampton preacher.  Tragically, many Christ-followers are not following the counsel of this godly man as they squander their time with worldly pursuits.  He reminds us, “Eternity depends on the improvement of time; but when once the time of life is gone, when once death is come, we have no more to do with time; there is no possibility of obtaining the restoration of it, or another space in which to prepare for eternity.”

Section 2: Reflections of Time Past

In section 2, Edwards encourages believers to reflect on time which has been granted in order to prepare for eternity.  Indeed, the argument goes, “Your future eternity depends on the improvement of time.”  He challenges readers, “How have you let the precious golden sands of your glass run?”

Section 3: Who Are Chiefly Deserving of Reproof From the Subject of the Preciousness of Time

Edwards begins section three with a discussion of how people waste their time: “There is nothing more precious, and yet nothing of which men are more prodigal.”  He demonstrates the kinds of people are who reproved for their negligence in this area.

  1. Those who spend a great part of their time in idleness.
  2. They are reproved by this doctrine who spend their time in wickedness, who do not merely spend their time in doing nothing to any good purpose, but spend it to ill purposes.
  3. Those are reproved by this doctrine, who spend their time only in worldly pursuits, neglecting their souls.

Section 4: An Exhortation to Improve Time

“Time is money.”  So goes the conventional wisdom of the day.  Edwards essentially agrees as he argues, “If you have a right conception of these things, you will be more choice of your time than of the most fine gold.”  He exhorts readers with four  bold propositions:

  1. You are accountable to God for your time.
  2. Consider how much time you have lost already.
  3. Consider how time is sometimes valued by those who are come near to the end of it.
  4. Consider what a value we may conclude is set upon time by those who are past the end of it.

Section 5: Advice Respecting the Improvement of Time

Edwards concludes his piece by offering three encouragements with respect to time.

  1. Improve the present time without any delay.
  2. Be especially careful to improve those parts of time which are most precious.
  3. Improve well your time of leisure from worldly business.

The notion of “improving” time is seen throughout the writings of Jonathan Edwards.  He gave a great deal of thought to it and chose to live wisely in light of his discoveries.  Indeed, Jonathan Edwards sought to “live with all his might unto the Lord.”  By God’s grace he accomplished resolution # 5: Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

“Therefore, spend not such opportunities unprofitably, nor in such a manner that you will not be able to give a good account thereof to God.  Waste them not away wholly in unprofitable visits, or useless diversions or amusements.”

– Jonathan Edwards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reset: Living a Grace-Paced LIfe in a Burnout Culture (2017)

resetDavid Murray, Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2017, 208 pp. $10.86

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to step into the ring with Sugar Ray Leonard or Ray “Boom Boom Mancini? David Murray may be a self-described soccer player but in his most recent book, Reset: Living a Grace Paced Life in a Burnout Culture, the pastor/theologian puts on the boxing gloves and dishes out a series of blows. The unsuspecting reader would expect these “jabs” to result in pain and dejection. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Each “punch” in Murray’s book is unleashed with a motivation of biblical instruction and grace. While the “jabs” may sting initially, thoughtful readers will come to terms with the author’s overall strategy, which is to encourage Christian men to slow down and drink in the pure waters of free grace.

Murray identifies the latent legalist that resides in every follower of Christ, that part that desires credit for a job well done, points for faithfulness in ministry, or adulation for efforts expended in the kingdom of God. The solution, of course, is grace.

Grace runs through of the remaining chapters that focus on everything from leading with humility in the home and the local church to practical things like spiritual disciplines, time management, diet, and exercise.

Several features captured my attention and as a result moved my affections.

Biblical

First, and foremost, Murray’s work is biblical. Anyone familiar with his ministry will not be shocked by this revelation. The wisdom of sacred Scripture saturates the principles presented and drives an agenda that is uniquely God-centered.

Transparent

The author does not write from an ivory tower. Rather, he walks with fellow pilgrims as a man who struggles with indwelling sin and faces daily challenges that require carefully formulated and biblical responses. Murray’s transparency is one of the great strengths of the books and will no doubt convince his readers to follow his lead.

Practical

Third, Reset is practical. Murray offers a host of timeless principles that encourage robust Christian living and not only help recalibrate weary soldiers but also revitalize the most burned out Christian leaders.

Gospel-Centered and Grace-Saturated

Finally, Rest is God-centered. I poured over this book in one day and was encouraged and uplifted. Yes, at times I felt the sting of the “punch.” But each blow that Murray delivers is laced with grace and seasoned with the love and wisdom of a seasoned shepherd.

There is so much to commend here. My hope is that many men will be built up and emboldened to continue the Christian race with passion, power, and conviction.

Revitalize: Biblical Keys To Helping Your Church Come Alive Again – Andrew Davis (2017)

arevitalAndrew M. Davis, Revitalize: Biblical Keys To Helping Your Church Come Alive Again Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017, 223 pp. $9.51

Andrew Davis understands what it means to pastor a church in crisis. But Dr. Davis also understands the joy of pastoring a church which has been revitalized. So the author is uniquely qualified to write on such a subject. The name of the book is Revitalize: Biblical Keys to Helping Your Church Come Alive Again.

Davis helps readers understand the biblical rationale for a revitalized church: “Revitalization occurs,” writes Davis, “when God restores a once healthy church, helping it to change course from its recent decline toward spiritual disease and death.” But before outlining the biblical keys for this vital process of revitalization, the marks of a dying church are presented. They include,

• Low view of Scripture

• Man-centered rather than God-centered

• Lax shepherding of members and no church discipline

• Little evangelistic fruit resulting in dwindling numbers

• Disunity and bitter factions

• Disrespect for godly leaders, resulting in short pastorates

• Disorderly polity

• Clinging to traditions, stubbornly unwilling to change

• Selfish spending patterns

• Little zeal for corporate prayer

• Increasingly world doctrines and behaviors

Davis notes the supreme importance of Christ who must be at the center of the revitalization process: “The more church leaders delight in the infinite exaltation of Christ and his rights over his vineyard, the more humble they will be about their own roles.”

With this critical foundation in place, Dr. Davis proceeds to lay out the components of church revitalization. The following biblical keys are each explained in greater detail:

Be Holy

Rely on God, Not on Yourself

Rely on God’s Word, Not on Techniques

Saturate the Church in Prayer

Cast a Clear Vision

Be Humble Toward Opponents

Be Courageous

Be Patient

Be Discerning

Wage War Against Discouragement

Develop and Establish Men as Leaders

Become Supple on Worship

Embrace the Two Journeys of Disciple-Making

There is so much to commend in this excellent work.  A short review falls terribly short. Revitalize does not contain the typical pragmatic approach which is found in books of this sort. Rather, it is filled with God-centered advice that may be immediately applied in the local church context. Dr. Davis has gifted the church with a much-need gift. My prayer is that many pastors will be encouraged and moved to action as they apply this timely wisdom. May the church be revitalized as she prepares for the triumphant return of the Lord Jesus Christ.

When Your Church Feels Stuck – Chris Sonksen (2017)

stuckChris Sonksen, When Your Church Feels Stuck: 7 Unavoidable Questions Every Leader Must Answer Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017, 181 pp. $10.80

Many churches in America are sitting on the plateau – so Chris Sonksen’s book, When Your Church Feels Stuck is relevant and fills an important need. The author sets forth an important principle at the outset: God determines the talent but we determine the choices. That is, are we faithful with the resources that God has given us? Sonksen remarks, “The measure of success is based on your living up to your potential, doing the absolute best you can o with what you have been given, digging deeper into your heart and soul, and seeking to become the leader God intended you to be.”

Several questions are offered which assess attitudes:

  • Am I doing all I can to reach my God-given potential?
  • Do I seek out people to mentor me or do I let pride get in the way?
  • Am I open to change or stuck in tradition?
  • Has ministry become more of a career than a calling?
  • Do I hold on too tightly to past successes?
  • Have I gotten too comfortable with the way things are?
  • Is everyone else recognizing a problem except me?

The author presents different stages in the life of a church from the initial launch, to utopia, whirlwind, increase, merry-go-round, and slow death. Readers are encouraged to evaluate which stage their respective church is currently in.

Most of the book revolves around seven questions, which are outlined below:

  1. Mission: What do we do?
  2. Strategy: How do we get it done?
  3. Values: What are the guiding principles we live by?
  4. Metrics: How do we measure a win?
  5. Team Alignment: Do we have the right people in the right seats moving in the right direction?
  6. Culture: How do we change the culture of our church?
  7. Services: How do we match what we say is important and what we really do?

The author goes into more detail as each question frames a specific chapter. The seven questions are helpful diagnostic tools and should be carefully considered by pastors and church leaders.

While nothing harmful is presented in Sonksen’s work, I would prefer to see a more biblically faithful model. Such work is found, for instance, in Andrew Davis’s book, Revitalize: Biblical Keys to Helping Your Church Come Alive Again. The work under consideration may help jumpstart a struggling church. However, it fails to provide the robust biblical groundwork to help a church move forward in a Gospel-centered way. My fear is that a business model is slowly replacing the biblical model, which is presented in the pages of the New Testament.

My assessment of this work is mixed. Readers should proceed cautiously, refusing to throw the baby out with the bathwater. But they should also realize that there is no “magic bullet” for church growth or revitalization in the local church.

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

The Influence of Spurgeon: A Boon for the Soul

 

 

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born on this date, June 19, 1834 – one hundred and eighty-three years ago.  I got to thinking about the influence that Spurgeon has had on my thinking, theology, and Christian life.  This thought led to another interesting tidbit.  I have been influenced by many Christian men over the years – most of whom I have never met.  On Spurgeon’s birthday, consider a few noteworthy men who have played a role in my life.  I commend their lives and writings to you.

C.H. Spurgeon Courage in the face of adversity, an unwavering trust in God’s sovereign purposes, rock-solid commitment to prayer, and a die-hard, Christ-exalting determination in the pulpit.

Jonathan Edwards The sovereignty of God in all things.

John Owen The glory of Christ, communion with Christ, and the death of death in the death of Christ.

John BunyanWarm-hearted devotion and Pilgrim’s Progress.

John CalvinHumility, contrition, and trembling before God’s Word.

Martin Luther Commitment to truth and rediscovering justification by faith.

William Tyndale – Zeal for translating the Word of God into the language of the common man.

John Knox  – Steely resolve in the face of adversity.

Thomas Watson Courage under fire and commitment to biblical principles.

Polycarp Refusing to bend under pressure.  An enemy of pragmatism.

Martyn-Lloyd Jones Biblical preaching/logic on fire!

Hudson Taylor, David Livingstone, David Brainerd Missionary zeal.

John PiperDelighting in God and the fight for joy.

Al Mohler – Confronting culture with the unchanging truths of Scripture.

Francis Schaeffer Heart for lost people, love for truth, and biblical worldview.

John MacArthur Faithfulness in the pulpit.

Steven Lawson Expository preaching.

R.C. Sproul – The holiness of God and Reformed theology.

Ron Nash – Christ-saturated intellectual and spiritual passion.

John Frame The doctrine of God.

J.I. Packer Knowing God and Christian creeds.

Wayne Grudem Systematic theology and a biblical understanding of the Trinity.

David A. Steele (Dad) Commitment to Scripture, leadership, and personal integrity.

Wayne Pickens Patiently and lovingly shepherding the flock, commitment to truth, and personal integrity.

Bruce A. Ware – High view of God and the authority of Scripture, and a commitment to the eternal relations of authority and submission in the Trinity.

Don Robinson – Evangelistic zeal, bold resolve.

Cal Blom Pastoral faithfulness, spiritual disciplines, and integrity.

David Needham – Lover of God and family.

Ron Frost – Approach to God and scholarship.

Hugh Salisbury Evangelistic zeal and love God and people.