Favor: Finding Life at the Center of God’s Affection

favorGreg Gilbert, Favor: Finding Life at the Center of God’s Affection Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017, 172 pp. $9.47

The prosperity gospel has been an influential force within the ranks of evangelicalism for some time. This God-dishonoring approach to the Christian life misinterprets Scripture and misrepresents the gospel. Tragically, many people are led astray by the idea that God’s gifts may be earned and that financial remuneration is at the center of God’s kingdom.

Greg Gilbert’s book, Favor: Finding Life at the Center of God’s Affection takes a different approach, one that is steeped in Scripture and offers people an eternal hope.

Part One: The Favor of God and How to Get It

Part one lays the theological foundation. The author defines his terms clearly by describing the essence of favor which means that you please someone or bring them joy or gladness. Therefore, “to be favored by God,” writes Gilbert, “is to be pleasing to him, to bring him joy … This is not a question of whether you’ll live your best life now; it’s a matter of whether you’ll live at all.”

The author wrestles with the idea of “earned favor.” In other words, humans have a built-in propensity to earn what they receive. For example, a worker receives wages for his hard work. A student receives a diploma for diligent study.

At the core of this study is the reality that most people are unwilling to admit: They do not deserve the favor of God. “You deserve to be condemned, to die, and to spend eternity under God’s wrath …” Gilbert writes. When creatures fail to glorify the living God, they commit cosmic treason against the throne of heaven. Gilbert adds, “It is rebellion and insurrection against the throne and crown and authority of God.”

Simply put, God’s favor must be earned. Yet it is not earned in the way that most people imagine. God’s favor must be earned for us and the only Person qualified to carry this out is the Lord Jesus Christ. He perfectly fulfilled the law of God and thus earned his favor. But then he died. The author explains,

But the fact that Jesus died, the fact that the One who actually earned life submitted to death, tells us that something more was happening. And that something more is the whole glory and joy of the Christian gospel. When Jesus won the favor of God and all its rewards, he wasn’t doing it just for himself. He was doing it for others too. He was acting as a representative, a substitute, a champion.

Gilbert’s winsome presentation of penal substitutionary atonement is stunning, to say the least. This breathtaking portrayal of the atonement leads to an important discussion that concerns union with Christ, a doctrine that is underemphasized in many churches. Gilbert goes so far to say, “Union with Christ … is the most under-appreciated, underemphasized, and overlooked doctrine in all of Christian theology.” Gilbert does his part to put a proper biblical emphasis on this crucial doctrine.

Part Two: The Blessings of God’s Favor

Part two focuses on the blessings of God’s favor by alerting readers to four important topics, namely, the blessing of contentment, peace with God, new life, and fighting as favored sons and daughters in the kingdom. These blessings are obviously practical and multi-faceted. Gilbert does a good job linking these blessings to real-life examples. But more importantly, he shows where these blessings appear in the Bible.

Favor: Finding Life at the Center of God’s Affection is perfect for new believers but will also benefit seasoned Christians as well. It wonderfully articulates the gospel and causes readers to rejoice in the blessings which are theirs in Christ!

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

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No Silver Bullets – Daniel Im (2017)

bulletsDaniel Im, No Silver Bullets, Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2017, 268 pp. $11.02

Discipleship books are a “dime a dozen” these days. The upswing in these books is both a blessing and a curse. Great blessing comes when one of these books draws readers to Scripture, captures their hearts with Christ-saturated truth, and presents biblical principles for growing in the Christian faith. However, the rapid rise in books devoted to discipleship is also a curse for many of these books are trite, simplistic, and quite frankly, miss the mark entirely. Daniel Im’s No Silver Bullets is numbered among the former.

The subtitle captures the essence of Im’s proposal: 5 Small Shifts That Will Transform Your Ministry. The author maintains, “The only way change happens – significant, long-lasting, macro-level change – is through a series of small decisions, steps, or micro-shifts, that are put into action and completed one at a time.” These shifts are set forth in Section One and include the following with brief summaries:

  1. From Destination to Direction – Emphasizing disciples who are focused on a direction instead of merely completed a set of check-lists, which is so common in many churches. Such an approach is bound to lead to both spiritual growth and numerical growth. Maturity in this model is “a result of equipping your church members with the right tools at the right time, so that they can ‘run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith.’”
  2. From Output to Input – At the heart of this shift is a re-examination of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Extensive research reveals that maturing disciples read the Bible on a regular basis, strive to obey God, deny self, serve God and others, share their faith, exercise their faith, seek God, build relationships, and strive for to live transparent lives. These markers are referred to throughout as “input goals” which serve as indicators of spiritual growth and maturity. Once again, the emphasis is that micro-changes in these areas lead to life change.
  3. From Sage to Guide – This shift presents a fresh approach to theological education which places a premium upon application, a component that is missing in many church classrooms.
  4. From Form to Function – Here a renewed emphasis is placed squarely on the kingdom of God. Indeed, as Im writes, “A healthy church that is making disciples of all nations is supposed to be a forecast of the kingdom of God.”
  5. From Maturity to Missionary – The final shift focuses on the missional elements of the church. Mr. Im builds on the work of Timothy Keller who also emphasizes the missionary paradigm. Six specific components are presented: 1) The church must confront society’s idols, 2) The church must contextualize skillfully and communicate in the vernacular, 3) The church must equip people in mission in every area of their lives, 4) The church must be a counterculture for the common good, 5) The church must itself be contextualized, and 6) The church must practice unity.

These various shifts are explained comprehensively and linked to the Bible. Once again, readers are reminded that small shifts are preferable and will lead to lasting change in the lives of disciples and the corporate Body of Christ.

Section Two reveals the path of discipleship. This section unpacks the practical outworking of the material that Mr. Im presented in the first part of the book. Mr. Im suggests how to lead a church that needs to initiate strategic steps of change. But the author clearly communicates that change is never easy and requires courage.

An important step on the discipleship path involves vision, strategy, and values. Examples are offered and exercises are included to help pastors and leaders in this area.

Daniel Im’s presentation is biblical from start to finish. The principles are attainable in the local church setting and many practical suggestions are included that will help move churches forward on the path to discipleship. The emphasis on making “small shifts” is sure to be a hit with pastors and Christian leaders who are bombarded every day with ideas in books and suggestions from parishioners. At times, the material is repetitive but patient readers will be rewarded in the long-run for sticking with the author and following his life of thought.

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

Steal Away Home – Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey (2017)

chMatt Carter and Aaron Ivey, Steal Away Home, Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2017, 294 pp. $14.60

Church history is filled with stories of courage, adventure, adversity, and persecution. From the exile of Athanasius, the martyrdom of John Rogers and William Tyndale, or Luther’s trial at Worms, these stories are well-known and we are quick to pass them along to the next generation.

Steal Away Home by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey is a tale that will be new to many readers, however.  It was certainly new for me! The story involves two men from backgrounds that have very little in common. C.H. Spurgeon was the Prince of Preachers, a refined man with a rich theological heritage who occupied the pulpit in Victorian England. He was well-known around the world. He was a best-selling author and recognized by thousands. Thomas Johnson was a simple slave boy who was unjustly shackled in colonial America. He was known by few and treated like an animal. His slave master worked him to the bone on the Virginia tobacco fields.

Jesus Christ liberated Thomas Johnson. He freed him from the power and the penalty of sin. President Abraham Lincoln rescued Thomas Johnson from the sin of slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation, which Lincoln regarded as the crowning achievement of his presidency, liberated Thomas from his slave master. Jesus Christ liberated Thomas from the slave master of sin.

Through a series of Providential events, Thomas Johnson found himself at the front door of C.H. Spurgeon in London. After his training was complete, he and his wife made their way to Cameroon, West Africa in 1879.

PERSONAL TAKEAWAYS

Steal Away Home is a work of historical fiction. It becomes clear at the outset, however, that the authors spent many hours researching the details of this intriguing story. My hope is that a few personal takeaways will prompt many people to enter rich world of the 19th century and absorb some life-altering lessons.

1. The Humanization of C.H. Spurgeon

I have been reading Spurgeon and books about the Prince of Preachers for almost thirty years. This book brilliantly captures the essence of Spurgeon and is not afraid of revealing his warts, weaknesses, and worries. It is a breath of fresh air for anyone who is under the false notion that the famous preacher from London lived a life of ease. Spurgeon’s doubt and lifelong battle with depression is highlighted and his fears are revealed.

2. The Horror of Slavery

Most Americans recognize that slavery is a perpetual “black eye” on our nations’ history. But few understand the gravity of what these innocent African Americans endured. Carter and Ivey masterfully reveal the pitiful nature of slavery through the eyes of Thomas Johnson. Sympathetic readers will feel genuine grief as they walk with Johnson and experience the horror of his chains.

3. The Hallowed Ground of Friendship

Steal Away Home reminds readers of the importance and value of friendship. The friendship fostered by Spurgeon and Thomas is grounded in grace and nurtured by honest communication, genuine fun, rich encouragement, and biblical accountability. Like David and Jonathan, these two men are examples of friendship that glorifies God. Indeed, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). Indeed, friendship is hallowed ground that too few men tread upon.

4. The Hope of the Gospel

Finally, this story shows how the gospel operates in the real world. Apart from grace, Charles Haddon Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson were dead in trespasses and sins, without hope and without God. Indeed, apart from grace, Spurgeon and Johnson were both spiritual slaves. Both men, however, were set free as they cast their hope on the Lord Jesus Christ. In the course of their very different earthly paths, they wound up on the same spiritual path, which ultimately led them both to the Celestial City!

Steal Away Home encouraged me personally and moved my soul in ways that most books only hope to do. Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey stepped up to the plate and hit the ball out of the park.  Their work will no doubt be a contender for book of the year.  I commend their work wholeheartedly!

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

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).