Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God – Timothy Keller (2014)

Over the past twenty-five years, I have read books on prayer by thekeller Puritans and Reformers, the Quakers and the contemplative writers, the Desert Fathers, and even some living authors who think they have something unique to contribute to the discussion.

Timothy Keller’s newest work, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God is quite frankly the best book I’ve ever read on prayer.  This short review will only touch the tip of the iceberg; so I encourage readers of Veritas et Lux to read this incredible book for themselves.

Keller’s work is divided into five parts:

  1. Desiring Prayer
  2. Understanding Prayer
  3. Learning Prayer
  4. Deepening Prayer
  5. Doing Prayer

The book aims to show that  “prayer is both conversation and encounter with God” and demonstrates that prayer is both “awe and intimacy, struggle and reality.”

Keller rightly notes, “A book on the essentials of prayer should contain three components: the theological, experiential, and methodological.”  The author succeeds in presenting a lucid theological framework for understanding prayer.  He presents the experiential side of prayer by citing numerous Scriptural examples and drawing on the work of many Christ-followers in Church history.  And he sets forth a workable methodology, which in the final analysis includes many different forms that may appeal to different kinds of people.”  Keller’s book is biblical, engaging, God-centered, gospel-centered, and Spirit-fueled.

Prayer: Experiencing  Awe and Intimacy With God will confront readers with the God-centeredness of Jonathan Edwards, the earthiness and practicality of Martin Luther, and the theological precision of John Calvin.  This work will undoubtedly be used by God to encourage faithful prayer, enlist new prayer warriors, and revitalize a church that has neglected the important discipline of prayer.

5 stars

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The Prodigal God – Tim Keller (2008)

Sometimes big things do come in small packages.  The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller is one of those “big things.”

Keller tackles the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  His approach confronts the typical interpretation that fixates on the sin of the younger brother in Christ’s parable – the prodigal son.  Keller does not minimize the sin of the younger brother.  Rather, he emphasizes the heinous nature of his sin and explores the sin of the older brother as well – whose sin that is no less evil than his wayward brother.

The two brothers and their father not only set up the framework for the parable; they provide the basis for Keller’s assertions.  The younger brother is the rebel; the one who sinfully squandered his inheritance.  The older brother despised the act of mercy and grace demonstrated by the father toward the wayward son.  The younger son tries to find happiness and fulfillment through self-discovery.  The older son tries to find happiness through moral conformity.  Keller adds, “The message of Jesus’s parable is that both of these approaches are wrong.”

The remaining sections of the book redefine sin, lostness, and hope – all based on the parable under consideration.  Keller implies that all people gravitate toward one of the two brothers.  He explodes traditional categories and offers fresh encouragement to rebel types and Pharisee types.  At the end of the day, readers are challenged to repent of the sins of self-discovery and/or moral conformity.

The Prodigal God is a reaffirmation of the biblical gospel set forth in categories that are understandable to believers and unbelievers alike.  I plan to utilize this resource as an evangelistic tool.  I also plan to read this little treasure from time to time to remind myself of the gospel realities that emerge in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

4.5 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

The Imperfect Disciple

discJared C. Wilson, The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017, 233 pp.  $13.21

I have a large section of books in my library devoted to the topic of discipleship and Christian living. I also have a much smaller section of books devoted to discipleship and Christian living – books that are actually worth reading and re-reading and focus on the life-transforming message of the gospel. These books emphasize the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. These books glory in the gospel. The books in the small section are written by men like Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, C.H. Spurgeon, John Calvin, John Piper, and — Jared C. Wilson.

The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together is Jared Wilson’s latest offering and it does not disappoint. The subtitle is enough to drive away Pharisee-types and self-righteous do-gooders. The rest of us who stand among the sinful and spiritually marginalized will benefit from this outstanding book.

Wilson articulates the gospel in clear and concise terms. His explanations are not only practical; they are deeply personal. What emerges in The Imperfect Disciple is soul-food for starved Christians. The book is a gold mine for weary travelers. The author has a way of reminding readers that apart from grace they lose; apart from grace they abandon hope; apart from grace, life is only humdrum.

After speaking in plain terms about the sinfulness of sin and addressing people who struggle to get their act together, Wilson pours the grace – and he pours it liberally: “And there is the key to following Jesus not as a defeated person of confidence, of hope, of glory: you are free to own up to your true sinful self because you are set free from your true sinful self.”

For readers who are under the impression that they have their act together, I have a simple plea: Do not read this book. It will only frustrate you, anger you, and cause your self-righteousness to swell. Sinners in need of grace should drink deeply, however, from The Imperfect Disciple. They should see the glory of Christ and recognize that nothing else truly satisfies. And they should turn away from petty idols, what Lewis referred to as “mud pies.” Wilson adds, “Truly I think one reason we aren’t captivated by Christ’s glory is because we have a diminished capacity to be captivated by anything big. We are preoccupied with small things.”

The Imperfect Disciple is one of those landmark books that makes a gigantic splash in the publishing world by challenging minds and transforming hearts. My prayer is that many will dive into this wonderful book and be changed for the better as they become reacquainted with the Savior and taste of his matchless grace.

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

Simple Church (2006)

It’s been several years since I first read Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric 0805447997_b
Geiger.  The second time through was a good refresher as the authors remind readers about the importance of returning to “God’s process for making disciples.”

Simple Church argues that healthy churches have a simple plan for making disciples.  Four key words describe the process that is presented in the book:

  1. Clarity
  2. Movement
  3. Alignment
  4. Focus

Clarity sets forth the ministry blueprint.  Clarity is “the ability of the process communicated and understood by the people.  Without understanding, commitment wanes.  Understanding precedes commitment.”

Movement is the “sequential steps in the process that cause people to move to greater areas of commitment.  Movement is about flow.  It is about assimilation.  Movement is what causes a person to go to the next step.”

Alignment is “the arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple process.  Alignment to the process means that all ministry departments submit and attach themselves to the same overarching process.”

Focus is “the commitment to abandon everything that falls outside of the simple ministry process.  Focus requires saying “yes” to the best and “no” to everything else.”

Each of the above steps gives church leaders the necessary framework to begin with a simple plan for making disciples.  This model will require a radical paradigm shift in most churches.  Some sacred cows will die.  But more disciples will be nurtured in the long run.  Simple Church is an important contribution and contains some critical components that lead to the establishment of a healthy church.

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.