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

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Good and Angry – David Powlison

David Powlison, Good and Angry Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2016, 246 pp. $17.99

Anger is a subject that most people can relate to. Many people battle a problem with chronic anger that lashes out at others and demands that specific needs be met or this high-toxic anger will continue to escalate. David Powlison address the problem of anger in his most recent book, Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness.

Powlison’s primary objective is to teach readers how to more fruitfully and honestly deal with their anger. The book is comprised of four sections, each of which help contribute to the stated objective above.

Section One: Our Experience

The author carefully introduces readers to different kinds of anger that emerge in people. At the end of the day, the descriptions become self-portraits, requiring each reader to examine any anger that may be smoldering in their hearts.

Powlison identifies a wonderful paradox and acknowledges that God blesses people who admit their brokenness and their need for help. The author adds, “Sanity has a deep awareness, I need help. I can’t do life right on my own. Someone outside me must intervene. The sanity of honest humility finds mercy, life, peace, and strength. By contrast, saying we don’t need help keeps us stuck on that hamster wheel of making excuses and blaming others. The end result isn’t life and peace; it’s self-righteousness, self-justification, alienation, and bitterness.”

So like a seasoned surgeon, Powlison identifies areas of need that readers need to acknowledge and confess. This is the first step in the right direction and prepares the humble for section two.

Section Two: What is Anger?

This section uncovers the essence of anger. At its core, anger expresses, “I’m against that.” Anger is seen to be comprehensive in scope. Powlison observes:

  1. Your body operates in agitated mode.
  2. Your emotions operate in the hot displeasure mode.
  3. Your mind operates in judicial mode.
  4. Your actions operate in military mode.
  5. Your motives operate in Godlike mode.

But anger is not what some think it is. Powlison notes that anger is a combination of good and bad: “Your anger is worth brilliant and appalling. The shifting line between good and evil plays out when it comes to your anger, like everywhere else. Your anger is God-like 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.”

Section two also contains an excellent treatment on the wrath of God. The author demonstrates the necessity of wrath and shows how wrath is an essential attribute in God. He observes four powerful principles that concern God’s anger:

  1. God’s anger falls on Jesus.
  2. God’s anger disarms the power of sin.
  3. God’s anger delivers us from the pain of others’ sin.
  4. God’s anger protects us from ourselves.

“These realities nourish our hearts,” writes Dr. Powlison. “God’s loving anger resolves the entire problem of evil in a way that brings him inexpressible glory and brings us inexpressible blessing … The truth is that you can’t understand God’s love if you don’t understand his anger.”

Section Three: How to Change

Section three focuses on practical ways to move from sinful anger and lives in ways that promote peace and glorify the Lord. The author includes a very helpful list of eight question that helps readers shift their focus on eternal things. The questions include:

  1. What is my situation?
  2. How do I react?
  3. What are my motives?
  4. What are the consequences?
  5. What is true?
  6. How do I turn to God for help?
  7. What are the consequences of faith and obedience?

Section Four: Tackling the Hard Cases

In section four, the author continues to wrestle with practical cases that readers will resonate with. He makes it clear that God expresses righteous anger. It is at this point that the book drives home the reality of the gospel: “He is angry at all injustice, every betrayal, any time wrongs are done to another … His response to evil is to do the greatest good thing the world has ever seen. He sends his own Son as a man of sorrows who enters and knows our suffering. He sends his own Son as the Lamb of God to die for the sins of his people. God doesn’t want you to ‘just get over it’ or to gloss over what you have suffered as if it didn’t really matter. He wants to help you become good and angry as well. He wants you to become merciful, purposeful, hopeful … It takes courage to face the evil done to you and to then turn toward your God, who suffered unimaginable evil on your behalf.”

Summary

Good and Angry is a terrific book that is forged in the fire and bathed in the Word of God. The gospel runs throughout, urging the followers of Christ to follow his example and treasure him above all things. My prayer is that Powlison’s work will be a blessing to many; that the promises and purposes of God would be clearly revealed and that his people would be served well as a result of this excellent work.

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

Purchase your copy today at https://www.amazon.com/Good-Angry-Irritation-Complaining-Bitterness/dp/1942572972/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473699555&sr=8-1&keywords=good+and+angry

Release the Prisoners!

 

Andy Farmer, Trapped Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2016, 180 pp. $17.99

Thousands of Americans flock to Alcatraz, the penitentiary in San Francisco Bay. Of course, this intimidating fortress has since closed its doors to violent criminals and lawbreakers. Brave guests may choose to stand for a few moments in one of the tiny cells and imagine what it would be like to be locked up for years and possibly even serve a life sentence.

Imagine being incarcerated for a moment. Your freedoms would be severely curtailed. Your abilities would be stifled. Your options would be limited. Such is the life of an inmate.

While some may imagine the horror of being detained for an indefinite period of time, thousands of people experience this every day. A multitude of people live in a self-imposed prison – in bondage to eating disorders, pornography addiction, substance abuse and a host of other activities that leave them hopeless and discouraged.

Andy Farmer addresses the real problem of addiction in his new book, Trapped. The subtitle, Getting Free From People, Patterns, and Problems accurately describes the heart of this author as he offers hope and freedom to people who would otherwise continue to live in a prison house of sin and shame. Indeed, the purpose of the book is to point readers to a redemption story that can set them free.

The author presents several real life examples of people who face a self-imposed prison. He argues that redemption is possible; that hope is possible as people turn to Christ for deliverance.

Real redemption, Farmer suggests is:

  • Freedom from the curse of the Law (Gal. 3:13).
  • Freedom from slavery to sin (John 8:34).
  • Freedom from the sentence of death (Rom. 7:4-6).
  • Freedom from the guilt of our trespasses and sins (Eph. 1:7).
  • Freedom from the oppression of Satan (Heb. 2:15).
  • Freedom from the deceptive snares of the world (2 Peter 2:18-21).

Redemption, according to Farmer is “a holy freedom.” He adds, “The Bible gives us the wonderful news that we weren’t simply redeemed from sin, we were redeemed for God. We have been brought out of sin into the gracious and loving reign of our Redeemer King.” So true freedom is not a commitment to autonomy; rather true freedom delights in living for God and glorifying God!

This God-glorifying approach to life runs counter to the therapeutic model and secular approaches to counseling. The God-glorifying model in this book encourages weary travelers to embrace the grace of their freedom, embrace the identity in their freedom, and embrace their calling in their freedom.

Ultimately, the author seeks to lead imprisoned people out of their traps. The topic of addiction is addressed from a biblical perspective. Addiction is presented as a “full-bodied worship of an idol that controls and defines its subject.” Farmer shows how the “gospel of redemption is the only treatment that brings the power, change, and hope that can transform broken addicts into whole-hearted worshippers of God.”

Summary

There is much to commend here. At least three features make the book a necessary tool on every pastor’s shelf and every biblical counselor’s desk:

First, the book presents a realistic look at addiction from a seasoned pastor. Farmer acknowledges the pain of addiction, the guilt of addiction, and the bondage of addiction.

Second, the book includes a robust treatment that is Bible-saturated and gospel-centered from start to finish. When so many are rushing to the local counselor or therapist for worldly advice, Trapped offers real help that is grounded in godly wisdom.

Finally, the book is grace-enabled. The author is quick to point readers to the all-sufficient grace of God: “God promises that as you walk that way, he will give grace for change, light for the path, and mercy for stumbles along the way.”

My prayer is that Trapped will be an encouragement to many people; that they will experience the life-transforming effects of the gospel. May many prisoners find their freedom in Christ and be delivered from their bondage forever.  So release the prisoners! “For freedom Christ has set us free …” (Gal. 5:1a).

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

A Different Kind of Happiness – Larry Crabb

crabbLarry Crabb. A Different Kind of Happiness. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016. 245 pp. $13.24

These days, happiness appear to be a hot topic. David Murray packaged several books about happiness under the title, A Bundle of Joy: Six Books on Christian Happiness. And Randy Alcorn made a very important contribution with his book, Happiness. Larry Crabb’s new book, A Different Kind of Happiness is a welcome addition and offers new insights which will encourage readers in their Christian journeys.

Crabb presents the purpose of the book at the outset: “To think through what it means to really love and to explore the truth that sets us free to relate closer to the way we wish we could, to love like Jesus.”

Four questions drive the book and help fulfill the purpose presented above:

  • Is there a kind of love, a better kind, that brings joy when it is given, not when it meets with a satisfying response from another?
  • Is there a kind of happiness that survives both the most damaging relational pain caused by another and the most discouraging and devastating of circumstances?
  • Is there a connection, a cause-effect relationship, between offering undistorted love and experiencing strong happiness?
  • Is Jesus-like happiness as a good feeling, or is it better known as a living and sustaining reality, an awareness of both loving life as it should be lived and a freedom to do so?

Crabb suggests two kinds of happiness:

“Second-thing happiness” is what we experience when life goes well. We feel blessed. We feel happy. Goals are achieved, spiritual disciplines are practiced. Ministry takes place. All these things lead to a feeling of happiness.

“First-thing happiness” is experiencing the joy of Jesus. It is the happiness that Jesus experienced during his earthly ministry. It is the joy that came as he freely gave of himself. We too, experience this kind of joy as we share the overflow of Jesus in our own lives.

A Different Kind of Happiness guides readers on the narrow path in pursuit of the kind of life that Jesus delights in giving his people. This is a weighty book, packed with personal reflection and pain. Crabb writes with a stunning degree of transparency, rarely found among Christian authors these days. He wrestles with doubt, loss, illness, adversity, and uncertainty.

Crabb is candid about the opposition he has received over the years. A few observations that may help critics, both in the past and the present include:

  • An emphasis on the gospel that is unapologetic.
  • An alignment with the New England Puritans.
  • A radically God-centered orientation.
  • A repudiation of the secular counseling model.

These observations should go a long way in appeasing Crabb’s critics and invite a new audience of readers that may have been frightened away by any negative reviews.

I don’t agree with everything Larry Crabb writes. But one thing he does: he makes me think. He makes me ponder. He asks difficult questions. This book is no exception. I invite readers to read Dr. Crabb’s latest work. Some quiet reflection and time to ponder the principles here will prompt deep encouragement and lead to a different kind of happiness.

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

RUNNING SCARED – Edward T. Welch (2007)

aRunning Scared by Edward T. Welch is a book for all people.  The author is quick to point out the struggle that people have with fear:

Fear and worry run deep in us all.

Fear and worry have meaning.  They say something.  

Fear and worry say that the world is dangerous.  

Fear and worry reveal us.  They reveal the things that we love and value.

Dr. Welch explains fear, isolates fear, and exposes this cruel task master.  Fear is examined in light of God’s Word which includes a penetrating answer for anyone willing to look carefully at God’s promises and embrace the hope held out in the gospel.

Running Scared contains over 300 pages of help for people who battle fear.  My advice: Run quickly to your computer and order a copy of Running Scared!

4 stars

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

GOD’S LOVE: BETTER THAN UNCONDITIONAL – David Powlison (2001)

0875526861_bHow many times have you uttered the words, “God’s love is unconditional?”  Yet the term is strangely absent from Scripture.  One might argue that other terms are absent as well, like “Trinity” and “hypostatic union.”   Of course, the terms are missing but the truth of the Trinity and the hypostatic union are clearly taught.

So what does one make of the notion of God’s “unconditional love.”  David Powlison tackles this important subject in his book, God’s Love: Better Than Unconditional.  Here’s his proposal: “God’s love is much different and better than unconditional … God cares too much to be unconditional in his love.”

Powlison is not the only one who resists the notion of God’s unconditional love.  R.C. Sproul adds, “I can think of no more pernicious lie to destroy people’s souls than this, which some preachers are spreading around the world: God loves you unconditionally.  No, he does not.  If we do not meet the conditions that he established for us in creation, then God will send us to hell forever” (Truths We Confess, Vol. I, 216).

Powlison grounds his argument with four “unconditional truths.”

1. It is true that “conditional love” is a bad thing.

2. It is true that God’s love is patient.

3. It is true that true love is God’s gift.

4. It is true that God receives people just as they are.

The author admits that the phrase “unconditional” has a “noble theological lineage in describing the grace of God.”  But the term is fraught with difficulties.  He suggests four biblical improvements:

1. There are more biblical and vivid ways to capture each of the four truths just stated.  The Bible provides much richer descriptions of God’s love than “unconditional.”

2. It is clear that unmerited grace is not strictly unconditional.  While it is true that God’s love does not depend upon what you do, it very much depends on what Christ did for you.  In that sense, it is highly conditional.

3. God’s grace is something more than unconditional in that it is intended to change the people who receive it.

4. “Unconditional love” is filled with cultural assumptions.  Such a term implies the minimizing or even elimination of expectations on the one receiving the love.

Powlison urges readers to consider the notion of “contraconditional love.”  He continues, “God has blessed me because his Son fulfilled conditions I could never achieve.  Contrary to what I deserve, he loves me.  And now I can begin to change not because I can earn his love, but because I’ve already received it.”

I commend God’s Love: Better Than Unconditional to fellow pilgrims.  It contains the biblical answer to the questions in regards to the love of God.  Readers concerned with Powlison’s thesis will be quickly persuaded and encouraged to pursue God with greater obedience and passion – an overflow of the love received from the sovereign and loving God of the universe.

5 stars