Battling Discouragement in Pastoral Ministry – C.H. Spurgeon

spC.H. Spurgeon. Autobiography, Volume 2: The Full Harvest, 1860-1892. Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1973. 524 pp. $36.00

In his excellent piece, 21 Maxims for Discouraged Pastors, Douglas Wilson reminds us that discouragement is part and parcel of pastoral ministry. Here is a piece of advice for men in pastoral ministry. Whenever you face the fires of adversity, unjust criticism, or swim in the sea of discouragement – pick up something by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The Full Harvest: Volume 2 is no exception to this rule.

The second volume of C.H. Spurgeon’s autobiography chronicles his life and ministry from 1860-1892. This account is a revised edition which was originally compiled by the British pastor’s wife, Susannah and Joseph Harrald.

This volume contains the high’s and low’s of Spurgeon’s ministry and demonstrates that Spurgeon was no stranger to controversy and adversity. Here is a man who battled a myriad of maladies and was plagued by chronic depression. The book shows how the Prince of Preachers overcame these barriers and trusted in his Savior to carry him through.

Perhaps the most impressive feature is Spurgeon’s resilient mindset. He endured many hardships in his London pastorate. Yet his influence remains with us today – with thousands of sermons for us read and digest.

Spurgeon was deeply committed to the doctrines of grace:

I have my own private opinion 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. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.

Spurgeon’s rock-solid belief in the doctrines of grace is a testimony to the power of the gospel and the joyful journey which is promised to God’s elect.

Spurgeon’s Sorrows – Zack Eswine

spurgeonI have a friend who was born in 1834.  That would make him 183 years old.  He went home to be with Jesus in 1892 – at the peak of his ministry and in the prime of his life.  I have often asked why God takes the heroes of the faith so soon – Jonathan Edwards, John Bunyan, and John Calvin all died in their 50’s.  David Brainerd and Jim Elliot died before they reached the age of 30.  While the question is interesting to ponder, the question is not ours to ask.  Enter the Creator —

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2, ESV).

“You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great” (Job 38:21, ESV).

“And the LORD said to Job: ‘Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?  He who argues with God, let him answer it’” (Job 40:2, ESV).

I have been learning from my friend, C.H. Spurgeon for nearly 25 years now.  He has taught me many lessons.  He introduced me to Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, a book he read over 100 times in his short life.  Spurgeon has taught me the importance of expositional preaching.  On many occasions, he has reminded me about the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching, not to mention living the Christian life.  He has inspired courage and conviction and prompted me to be unwavering, even in the darkest of days.

But one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from my British friend is how to deal with melancholy.  Zack Eswine helps highlight some of those lessons in his book, Spurgeon’s Sorrows.  The subtitle accurately reflects the basic theme of the book, Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression.  

Spurgeon’s Sorrows is arranged in three parts.  Part One walks readers through the basics of depression.  What is it?  How can one recognize it?  What is spiritual depression?  Part Two presents a path for helping people who suffer from depression.  And Part Three is a practical section that offers practical assistance for dealing with depression.

Chapter nine is worth the price of the book as the author directs readers to the promises of God and shows how Spurgeon utilized this habit of claiming the promises of Jesus in his daily walk with God.

Spurgeon’s Sorrows is a short book filled with biblical counsel for people who battle depression and provides help for anyone who is reaching out to folks who are wading through the Slough of Despondence.  In the final analysis, readers are encouraged to cling to their Savior who promises to walk with them through every valley.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” (Psalm 23:1–2, ESV)

4 stars

Katharina & Martin (2017)

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Michelle DeRusha, Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017, 314 pp. $14.79

When Baker Publishing gave me an opportunity to read and review Katharina & Martin Luther by Michelle DeRusha, I hesitated. For almost twenty-five years, I have studied the life of Luther and researched the finer points of the Protestant Reformation. In 2015, I began a period of research and writing which led to the publication of my book, Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel Centered Convictions of Martin Luther. So my original hesitation had nothing to do with a lack of interest. Indeed, my interest in Luther has never waned. My only question was this: Would this book add any new insight or reveal aspects of Luther’s life that were previously unknown to me?

Thankfully, I decided to read the book. After only a few pages, I knew that my decision to devour this new book about Luther’s life would pay rich dividends.

First, Michelle DeRusha is an excellent writer. Her writing is clearly linked to the historical data concerning Luther’s life and is informed by a wealth of scholarship that she is quick to utilize.

Second, Katharina and Martin Luther is not your standard fare history book. The book reads like a novel but never sacrifices any of the historical content that readers expect. DeRusha has a gift for making history come alive and draws the reader into the setting she seeks to expose. I often found myself mysteriously transported to the Wittenberg landscape, smelling the fragrance of the countryside, or experiencing the unique tension of the Reformation. The author nicely captures the zeitgeist of the 16th century and strategically guides readers through its hallowed halls.

Finally, DeRusha skillfully presents the blossoming relationship between Martin Luther and Katharina. Despite the many challenges that this family encountered, one thing remains certain: “The Protestant Reformation would have happened without the marriage of Luther and Katharine. But Luther would not have been the same Reformer without Katharina.”

Katharina and Martin is thoroughly researched and presented in a winsome way that will no doubt attract a wide range of readers. Highly recommended!

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

Gospel Reformation

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The excommunicated monk sits alone in silence. Beads of sweat accumulate on his brow as he reads from the pages of the Greek text. A dark cloud casts a shadow over his homeland as the grace of the gospel is obscured by a church that cares more about tradition than truth.

For the next ten months, Luther will pour over every word, translating the Greek into the heart language of the German people. When his work is complete, the German people will be able to read the Bible for themselves. They will no longer be dependent upon a priest who has misrepresented God, mangled the truth of his Word, and maligned the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For hundreds of years, the gospel had been buried and replaced by a system of “man-made righteousness.” The Roman Catholic Church exchanged truth for tradition. The power-brokers of tradition maintained a chokehold on people who didn’t know any better.  Confessing sin to a priest replaced confessing sin to a holy God.

Yet, Luther unearthed the precious jewel of the gospel, a reality which is unveiled in my new book, Bold Reformer:Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther. Only $0.99 for a limited time on Amazon.com.

Shaken – Tim Tebow

shakenTim Tebow, Shaken. Austin: Waterbrook, 2016, 209 pp. $13.21

A roller coaster is a fitting term for Tim Tebow. As a Heisman Trophy winner and with two national championships under his belt, his future appeared bright. Tebow was originally drafted in the first round by the Denver Broncos in 2010. He was subsequently traded to the New York Jets and did short stints with the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles.

While thousands of people flocked to see their hero on the gridiron, not everyone was as enthusiastic about Tebow’s performance. He was criticized from the start and endured the scorn of people who rejected his outspoken Christian faith.

Tebow underscores the events of his life as a professional athlete and guides readers through the emotional rollercoaster in his latest book, Shaken: Discovering Your True Identity in the Midst of Life’s Storms. The book is a window into the heart of Tim Tebow as he shares about his bumps and bruises along the way.

Tim Tebow is the “Dan Quayle” of the sports world. Here is a man who works harder than most athletes and has exemplary integrity to boot. Like Dan Quayle, though, Tebow has been treated unfairly. He has been unjustly criticized by the media. And his Christian convictions have been cast aside by many.

But Tebow does not write as a martyr. He writes as a fellow-traveller. He writes to inspire young people. And he succeeds in achieving his goal. Shaken is packed with inspirational stories that provide a much-needed perspective in an entitled world. The book reminds readers that they are significant in the eyes of God; that they have a contribution to make. Tebow’s wisdom and enthusiasm are contagious and will no doubt encourage many young athletes.

I respect and admire Tim Tebow. His love for the Lord Jesus Christ and people is worth emulating. And his character is above reproach. Indeed, Tim Tebow is a worthy role model for America’s young people. However, a few critiques are in order as one who desires to fairly review a book. First, the emphasis on the “unconditional love of God” should be modified and re-articulated. Readers are encouraged to see David Powlison’s book, God’s Love: Better Than Unconditional . Powlison’s book is the best starting point and will offer a better explanation that conforms to the pattern of Scripture.

Second, while readers are urged to trust in Christ and accept his gift of salvation, there is a missing element of repentance.  It is certainly true that Scripture invites/commands sinners to believe but saving faith always includes repentance.  Signs of repentance are absent in this work.

Summary

Shaken is a basic biographical account of a well-known sports icon. As such, it is written with the student-athlete in mind. Christian athletes will be inspired and touched by the testimony of Tim Tebow. The author’s worldview is spelled out in clear terms here:

Trophies don’t last. Awards come and go. Impressive titles move from one person to the next. But how we live can make an eternal impact.

Tebow has been unfairly caricatured and criticized. He continues to move forward, despite the abuse that his critics hoist upon him. Indeed, he has been shaken, but he has not been moved. He continues to use his gifts to glorify God and encourage many people. His newest book is a testimony to this fact.

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

The Legacy of Luther – R.C. Sproul and Stephen Nichols, Ed.

lutherR.C. Sproul and Stephen J. Nichols, The Legacy of Luther. Sanford: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2016, 308 pp. $15.66

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the castle door in Wittenberg. One act of courage sparked a theological firestorm in Germany that set the world able in a matter of days. Spreading like wildfire, thousands were introduced to the gospel, which is received by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

The Legacy of Luther celebrates the accomplishments of this godly man. Edited by R.C. Sproul and Stephen Nichols, the book surveys Luther’s life, thought, and ultimately his legacy. A wide range of pastors and theologians contribute to this volume; men like Steven J. Lawson, Michael Horton, Sinclair Ferguson, and Derek Thomas, to name a few.

The Legacy of Luther is a sweeping look at the German Reformer. The book contains basic information that will appeal to first-time students of Luther. But it is also filled with a wealth of information that will satisfy the most deeply entrenched Luther scholar.

The Legacy of Luther certainly honors a significant man who stands head and shoulders above most others in church history. But at the end of the day, the book does not exalt a man; the book exalts the gospel of grace and celebrates the accomplishments of our Savior. The neglected gospel truths which were recovered by the Reformers are proclaimed with passion in zeal in this important volume.

Readers may be interested in my recently published book, Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther.

True Faith and Allegiance – Alberto R. Gonzales

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Alberto R. Gonzales, True Faith and Allegiance. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2016, 526 pp. $19.09

True Faith and Allegiance is the biographical tale of a man who has experienced the American dream. Rising from humble origins, this man served in a prestigious Texas law firm, and served under George W. Bush during his days as governor of Texas. He became the Secretary of State in Texas and was named as a Supreme Court Justice in that state. He was later appointed by then-President George W. Bush to serve as special legal counsel until he reached the apex of his career in an appointment to serve as Attorney General in the Bush administration.

True Faith and Allegiance recounts the life and career of Alberto R. Gonzales, the first Hispanic man to ever serve as Attorney General. Gonzales writes with a stunning amount of transparency in this book, sparing no details.

While the book is primarily about Gonzales, one of the most fascinating features is his insight into the forty-third president of the United States, George W. Bush. Gonzales speaks highly of Bush and alerts readers to his keen intellect, rock-solid integrity, loyal friendship, and his leadership abilities.

The most outstanding feature of True Faith and Allegiance is the depth of Gonzales character. It is a testament to personal integrity, courage under fire, and devotion to the Commander in Chief. Alberto Gonzales paid a steep price for being a man of integrity and for living according to a set of timeless principles. Gonzales shares in great detail about the painful assault on his character and the tragic dividends he reaped after his time in office.

Despite these painful events, Gonzales forged ahead. He never gave up and he continues to use his gifts to serve people and glorify God. The former Attorney General writes,

Everyone at some point, believes life is unfair, but you must learn to accept and overcome adversity, put your trust in God rather than human beings, and move on. I harbored resentment for a time against Democratic senators and staffers who attacked me, and against Republicans who abandoned me. Now I see that while they sought to do evil to me, God used it for good.

Gonzales takes a page out of Joseph’s playbook by maintaining a God-centered perspective. He encourages young people, “Step into the arena with your eyes open and your armor securely attached. Be bold and take risks. Never fear criticism; you will not be treated fairly; accept the fact that you will be criticized no matter what you do, so do good anyway.”

True Faith and Allegiance is a story for every American. Some may disagree with Gonzales convictions. Others may reject his politics. But none can accuse him of being unfaithful to his country. Gonzales is a model patriot worthy to be emulated. Indeed, he is a man of true faith and allegiance!

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