I Will: Nine Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian (2015)

rainThom S. Rainer, I Will: Nine Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2015, 198 pp. $10.48

“I want hymns in the worship service.” “I want sermons that are practical and tug on my emotional apron strings.” “I want a slick youth program.” “I want the worship team to dress up.” “I want a quarterly business meeting.” “I want, I want, I want.” This is the lament of many twenty-first century Christians. It is a cry that has been informed by our consumer-based culture. It is an inward cry that makes a plea on the basis of personal preference.

That is the subject of Thom Rainer’s excellent little book, I Will: None Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian. Rainer contrasts the inward pleas above with a response that is outward. Instead of “I want,” he urges Christians to begin with “I will.” “It is about learning how to have complete joy in your service through your church,” Rainer writes. “It is about becoming a fully functioning member of the body.

The author argues that right attitudes (“I am”) lead to right actions (“I will”). “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4, ESV). Readers are therefore encouraged to commit to the following right actions:

  1. I Will Move From “I Am” to “I Will”
  2. I Will Worship With Others
  3. I Will Grow With Others
  4. I Will Serve
  5. I Will Go
  6. I Will Give Generously
  7. I Will Not Be a Church Dropout
  8. I Will Avoid the Traps of Churchianity
  9. I Will Make a Difference

There is nothing original here – just biblical admonition for Christ-followers who desire to make a maximum impact with their lives to the glory of God. Readers who are troubled by Rainer’s challenges should look deeply at their own motives and their commitment to the local church.

Personally, I was deeply encouraged by Rainer’s timely book. I Will is a reminder that a self-focused approach to Christianity will only do harm and discourage the household of faith. The nine traits that Rainer advances will serve the church well and prompt spiritual growth among the faithful flock of God.

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

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.

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

HERALDING THE TRUTH: PASSING GOD’S WORD TO THE NEXT GENERATION

Psalm 78:4 gives specific marching orders for followers of Christ, namely – we must herald the truth of God’s Word:

We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Psalm 78:4, ESV).

Instead of “hiding” the truth, we must herald the truth.  Obeying this divine command means we tell people about God; that is to say, we proclaim the Word of God.  The Psalmist proclaims, “Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. He will guide us forever” (Psalm 48:12–14, ESV).

Psalm 78:4 lays a heavy burden of responsibility on parents to pass the torch of truth to the next generation.  Exactly what does this proclamation look like?  What are the high points of a faithful herald?

WE TELL THE NEXT GENERATION ABOUT GOD

We tell the next generation about the works of God:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4–9, ESV)

Like our Jewish forefathers, we tell of the greatness of God throughout redemptive history.

Additionally, we tell them about the wonders of God..  We show them how the Redemptive story unfolds in Scripture.  We help establish a strong Christian worldview in our children by marking out the key stages in redemptive history, namely – creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.  And telling our children about the wonders of God involves constantly retelling the gospel story.  J.I. Packer remarks, “God saves sinners” – “By this we mean that, God – the Triune Jehovah, Father, Son and Spirit; three Persons working together in sovereign wisdom, power and love to achieve the salvation of a chosen people, the Father electing, the Son fulfilling the Father’s will by redeeming, the Spirit executing the purpose of the Father and Son by renewing; saves – does everything first to last, that is involved in bringing man from death in sin to life in glory: plans, achieves and communicates redemption, calls and keeps, justifies, sanctifies, glorifies; sinners – men as God finds them, guilty, vile, helpless, powerless, unable to lift a finger to do God’s will or better their spiritual lot.”

WE TELL THE NEXT GENERATION TO HOPE IN GOD

He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments;” (Psalm 78:5–7, ESV)

Notice the conscious decision to “arise.”  There is a decisiveness, a resolute spirit that should characterize every parent.  The reason for “rising up” is to tell the next generation to hope in God:

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 62:5–8, ESV)

But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more.” (Psalm 71:14, ESV)

We tell the next generation to hope in God because God calls us to put our hope in him.  John Piper adds, “The beauty of the gospel is that in one simple demand (“Put your hope in God”), we hear good news and God gets the glory … This is the command of the gospel that keeps God at the center – the center of his affection and ours.”  So we commit ourselves to this sober task – we tell the next generation to hope in God!

WE TELL THE NEXT GENERATION NOT TO FORGET THE WORKS AND WONDERS OF GOD

Here is the shocking reality.  We are one generation away from abandoning God entirely.  Judges 2:10 describes the dreadful fate of Israel, “And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.”  Like Israel, we are on the cusp of losing all we hold dear.  Thankfully, God will always have his remnant.  Despite the apostasy of the nations, God will maintain a faithful band of brothers.  God will as Steve Lawson has described, “have a long line of godly men” who herald the Word of God.

WE TELL THE NEXT GENERATION TO KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD

Solomon is a man who experienced a life of sin and finally came to his sense at the end of his days.  He says, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14, ESV).  Therefore, in order to be faithful heralds, we must tell the next generation to obey God and his commands.  Greg Gilbert wisely says, “It is through our proclaiming the gospel – whether through preaching or teaching or conversations over meals with friends, family members, and coworkers – that God has determined to save sinners.”

Establishing the next generation in the gospel requires us to herald the Word of God.  We must tell them about God.  We must tell them to hope in God.  We must tell them not to forget the works and wonders of God.  And we must tell the next generation to keep the commandments of God.  May God grant us the heart of King David who instructed Solomon moments before he died:

Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn, that the Lord may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel’” (1 Kings 2:2–4, ESV).

NOTE TO SELF: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself – Joe Thorn (2011)

I will never forget the first time I read the maxim, “Preach the gospel to yourself” in a Jerry Bridges book.  What originally appeared counter-intuitive turned out to be an important exercise in humility and a constant reminder of the grace that saved me and enables me to live the Christian life each day – all to the glory of God.

Pastor Joe Thorn writes forty-eight short notes to himself, all designed as a reminder of the ongoing influence and efficacy of the gospel in his life in his new book, Note to Self.  What may appear self-serving at first glance, is in the final analysis a gracious gift the church.  For Thorn’s “notes” are meant to serve all Christ-followers and point them to supremacy and sufficiency of the Savior which culminate in the cross-work of Jesus.

The author draws the boundaries at the outset: “Preaching to ourselves is the personal act of applying the law and the gospel to our own lives with the aim of experiencing the transforming grace of God leading to ongoing faith, repentance, and greater godliness” (p. 23).  Well stated and superbly executed throughout the book.

This short work is divided into three parts:

Part One: The Gospel and God

Part Two: The Gospel and Others

Part Three: The Gospel and You

Thorn has left no stone unturned.  He relentlessly reminds sinners of their desperate need for grace, forgiveness, and mercy.  This work is practical, devotional, thought-provoking, and soul-searching.  But most important, this work is cross-centered, Christ-centered, and gospel-centered.  While readers are privileged to get an inside look at the author’s heart in this biographical devotional, they are at the same time confronted with their need for the gospel in every arena of life.  And students of Reformed theology will appreciate the “backdoor emphasis” on the doctrines of grace throughout.  New comers to Reformed thought will receive a breathtaking introduction to the doctrinal framework that is finally getting the attention it deserves in our day!

Three cheers for Joe Thorn’s, Note to Self.  He has delivered the goods in a fresh, creative, and biblically authentic way.  This good idea that likely found its genesis on the back of a napkin may well become a best seller in a matter of weeks!

5 stars

 

AS IRON SHARPENS IRON – Howard and William Hendricks

As Iron Sharpens Iron attempts to explain and sell the concept of mentoring.  The stated goal of the authors is to see thousands of readers develop mentoring relationships as a result of reading the material.  The authors hope to steer as many men as possible into vital relationships that produce and reproduce godly men.

The authors admit the difficulty of defining a “mentor” and note some distinguishing qualities between mentorship and discipleship.  The concept of discipleship is presented as a specific plan to nurture spiritual growth in the life of another man.  The idea of mentoring is presented as more of a broad scheme.  A mentor is fundamentally committed to helping another grow and realize specific life goals.  Therefore, the authors seek to build the case for utilizing mentoring as one of the primary means of bringing men to maturity.  Mentoring is meant to leave a lasting legacy on the life of another man.

The book is divided into two general parts.  Part one is devoted to men who seek a mentor.  The authors intend to help such a man find a mentor, provide qualities to look for in a mentor, give some basic strategies for growth, and offer tips in building a mentoring relationship.

Part two is devoted to men who intend to serve as a mentor to a younger man.  The authors lay the foundation by discussing the need for mentor-type relationships in our culture.  Further, the authors discuss the roles and responsibilities of a mentor.  Finally, the authors provide a host of “how-to’s” as well as a list of problems to avoid in a mentoring relationship.

As Iron Sharpens Iron is a worthwhile book that focuses on the practical rather than the theoretical.  A further strength worth mentioning is the holistic approach to a mentoring relationship.  The authors are careful to endorse a complete concept of mentoring that stresses the construction of the complete man including the spiritual, emotional, social, physical, and financial.  The book is well-balanced and thought-provoking.  As Iron Sharpens Iron is very encouraging and motivating.  One wonders how any reader could walk away from this material without calling up a potential protégé to start a mentoring relationship.

The only weakness I detected was a great deal of monotony.  Much of the material presented in part one is rehashed in part two.

This work shall prove to be a great help in my current ministry.  The concepts may be immediately implemented in a mentoring program in the local church.  Further, this book may be used as a stimulus to get other men interested in the mentoring process.  The possibilities are endless for any church that seeks to build life on life relationships for the purpose of godliness.

3.5 stars

GROUNDED IN THE GOSPEL: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way – J.I. Packer and Gary Parrett (2010)

J.I. Packer and Gary Parrett are concerned about the current condition of the church.  They have written Grounded in the Gospel in order to reignite a passion for catechizing believers in the Christian faith.

The practice of catechesis finds its roots in the Old Testament: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:7, ESV).  And the catechetical imperatives clearly emerge in the New Testament (1 Tim. 4:11, 16; 6:2-4; 2 Tim. 1:13-14; 4:2-3; Tit. 2:1, 15). This imperative reaches a crescendo in the imperative that Christ sets forth (Matt. 28:20).

Packer and Parrett remind readers that the central feature of pastoral ministry is one of rigorous teaching and preaching.  And they rightly argue that regenerate people “will welcome this kind of ongoing instruction in which attention is focused on the self-revealed Triune God: who and what he is; what he has done, is doing, and will do; his works, ways, will, wisdom, and how he wants to be worshipped; in short, everything he shows us with regard to himself throughout the Scripture.”

Grounded in the Gospel is an excellent introduction to the rationale behind creeds and catechisms and should spark creative ways of doing discipleship, namely, returning to the old paths.

3.5 stars