28 February 2010

Book Notes-February 2010

1. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande (2009). Gawande, who wrote his first book during his surgery residency, is a masterful writer. Although this book was not as good as his previous 2, it is still a worthwhile read discussing the importance of using checklists. 3 stars.

2. The Great Divorce by CS Lewis (1945). In this brief story, Lewis presents his view of the afterworld. From it comes the excellent quote, "There are only 2 kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.'" 3.5 stars.

3. Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal by Eric Johnson (2007). Johnson wrote this proposal for a distinctly Christian psychology. It has taken me nearly a year to read, but it was well worth my time. I had to read it with a dictionary in hand, but I appreciated his deep command of the Bible as well as modern psychology. He seems to be on to something and I cannot wait to see how this "Christian Psychology" develops. 4 stars.

4. Words from the Fire by R. Albert Mohler Jr. (2009). Dr Mohler writes of the importance of the 10 commandments to modern day Christians. I appreciated his approach to teaching these and plan to study them more myself. I particularly liked his thoughts on the 3rd commandment, which entails not taking the name of God in vain. 3.5 stars.

5. The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (1678). Although I struggled with the language of this book, not often reading works from the 1600s, it is a beautiful Christian allegory, firmly rooted in scripture. I understand why this was once the second most widely read Christian book after the Bible. It is a worthwhile read for all believers. 4.5 stars.

6. The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes (1630). I came across this title as I read the Eric Johnson book mentioned above and saw it mentioned a few times since. It was almost suggested as a Puritan approach to depression. Although I can see its application to that, it is a much broader book in my opinion. I found many worthwhile ideas and quotes as I read this brief, but excellent book. 4 stars.

7. Who is Jesus? by RC Sproul (1983). I received this book as a part of a set for making a donation to Ligonier ministries. It provides a good apologetic regarding the life of Jesus. 3 stars.

If you are going to read one book from this list, read the The Pilgrim's Progress. It is a classic.

26 February 2010

Christ is the Hope of the Church

I found this passage in Richard Sibbes's The Bruised Reed. It really struck a chord with me.

If we look to the present state of the church of Christ, it is as Daniel in the midst of lions, as a lily amongst thorns, as a ship not only tossed but almost covered with waves. It is so low that the enemies think they have buried Christ, with respect to his gospel, in the grave, and there they think to keep him from rising. But as Christ rose in his person, so he will roll away all stones and rise again in his church. How little support has the church and cause of Christ at this day! How strong a conspiracy is against it! The spirit of antichrist is now lifted up and marches furiously. Things seem to hang on a small and invisible thread. But our comfort is that Christ lives and reigns, and stands on Mount Zion in defence of those who stand for him (Rev 14:1); and when states and kingdoms shall dash one against another Christ will have care of his own children and cause, seeing there is nothing else in the world that he much esteems. At this very time the delivery of his church and the ruin of his enemies are in progress. We see nothing in motion till Christ has done his work, and then we shall see that the Lord reigns.

Christ and his church, when they are at the lowest, are nearest rising. His enemies, at the highest, are nearest their downfall. The Jews are not yet come under Christ's banner; but God who has persuaded Japheth to come into the tents of Shem (Gen 9:27) will persuade Shem to come into the tents of Japheth. The 'fullness of the Gentiles' has not yet come in (Rom 11:25), but Christ, who has the uttermost parts of the earth given to him for his possession (Psa 2:8), will gather all the sheep his Father has given him into one fold, that there may be one sheepfold and one shepherd (John 10:16). The faithful Jews rejoiced to think of the calling of the Gentiles and why should we not rejoice to think of the calling of the Jews?

The gospel's course has hitherto been as that of the sun, from east to west, and so in God's time it may proceed yet further west. No creature can hinder the course of the sun, nor stop the influence of heaven, nor hinder the blowing of the wind, much less hinder the prevailing power of divine truth, until Christ has brought all under one head, and then he will present all to his Father: 'These are those thou hast given to me; these are those that have taken me for their Lord and King, that have suffered with me. My will is that they may be where I am and reign with me.' And then he will deliver up the kingdom, even to his Father, and put down all other rule, and authority, and power (I Cor 15:24).

His closing prayer:
The Lord reveal himself more and more to us in the face of his Son Jesus Christ and magnify the power of his grace in cherishing those beginnings of grace in the midst of our corruptions, and sanctify the consideration of our own infirmities to humble us, and of his tender mercy to encourage us. And may he persuade us that, since he has taken us into the covenant of grace, he will not cast us off for those corruptions which, as they grieve his Spirit, so they make us vile in our own eyes. And because Satan labours to obscure the glory of his mercy and hinder our comfort by discouragements, the Lord add this to the rest of his mercies, that, since he is so gracious to those that yield to his government, we may make the right use of this grace, and not lose any portion of comfort that is laid up for us in Christ. And may he grant that the prevailing power of his Spirit in us should be an evidence of the truth of grace begun, and a pledge of final victory, at that time when he will be all in all, in all his, for all eternity. Amen.

20 February 2010

Understanding Grace Carditively

Since becoming a Christian, I have professed to understand grace and I believe I do. Indeed, I know that it is by grace I am saved (Ephesians 2:8-9). Many times, though, my understanding is in my head, as is my personality. God designed me as a thinker. I more easily process thoughts and concepts than emotions and feelings. Getting grace from my head to my heart has been a daunting task.

Eric Johnson (Foundations of Soul Care, 2006) writes of this process, differentiating the cognitive from the carditive. "Carditive internalization begins with the processing of biblical/gospel discourse in such a way that one's affections are engaged" (p. 503). I cherish the times when God allows me carditive internalization. This week was such a week.

Over the past several days, I have been struggling to understand Galatians 5. Paul contrasts law and grace, works of the flesh and fruits of the spirit. Verses 16 and 24 really challenged me. Verse 16 reads, "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh" and verse 24 reads, "And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." As I read the works of the flesh described in verses 19-21, I saw myself; not just as I was, but as I am. I was left with the question, am I walking with the Spirit? If I am, why do I still gratify the desires of the flesh? Completely overcoming the flesh seemed impossible to me. I will always have a little more anger. A little more idolatry. A little more flesh.

I found a brief phrase in The Pilgrim's Progress that captured my recent feelings about Galatians 5. Hopeful tells Christian, "Another thing that hath troubled me ever since my late amendments, is, that if I look narrowly into the best of what I do now, I still see sin, new sin, mixing itself with the best of that I do; so that now I am forced to conclude, that notwithstanding my former fond conceits of myself and duties, I have committed sin enough in one day to send me to hell." I have always been a sinner and I will continue to be a sinner, despite my own best efforts. I can claw and fight, but no matter my efforts, I will still be separated from God by an infinite divide.

God, in his infinite graciousness, aided my carditive processing today through pastor Doug. Doug was preaching about heaven, specifically Revelation 21-22. This passage promises a new heaven and a new earth--a completely new existence. Yet, 21:8 reads, "But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” Reading this verse, I was again back to my feelings regarding Galatians 5.

In the last 5 minutes of his sermon, though, Doug mentioned Romans 5:20. This passage was not the focus of his sermon, but I was emotionally overwhelmed the moment I heard it. God used Doug to share a verse that went right to my heart. Romans 5:20-21 reads, "Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

We were given the law so that we realize how impossible life is without Christ. My sin will increase every day, adding to my debt. Yet, even in my sinfulness, Christ paid the penalty. It has nothing to do with my ability. I will never measure up. And He will grant me eternal life anyway. Greater love has no one than this.

07 February 2010

Let My Words Be Few

A sarcastic person has a superiority complex that can only be cured by the honesty of humility.-Lawrence Lovasik

For all of my life, I have loved to talk. With people, around people, at people. As a young boy, my mother had a shirt for me that said "Motomouth" and people laughed often because it was true. I don't ever recall a time when this was not true. I have always been quick to speak.

Unfortunately, with a quick tongue often comes impetuousness. Speaking, before thinking, can lead to trouble. As a junior high and high school student, I was occasionally subjected to attacks by older students because I would make what I felt were quick-witted, comedic comments. I have a way of quickly spotting verbal inconsistencies in people and can turn a phrase to make a joke out of nearly anything. This "ability" was often my downfall. I inherited this skill from my father; get-togethers are peppered with witty observations, often at the expense of others.

This is the heart of sarcasm. It literally means "to tear the flesh." I have previously written on this topic, noting my appreciation for gentler sarcasm (if there is such a thing), yet issuing a caution that we must be careful with our words.

I still struggle with this most days. My default setting still calls up sarcastic comments. At times I still make them, though through God's grace, I have done so less often. I continue to work on being slow to speak and quick to listen--to God and to others. I have been amazed at how much more likely people are to open up when they feel heard, rather than criticized.

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool's voice with many words.-Ecclesiastes 5:1-3

03 February 2010

For the love of reading

Today, Trevin Wax had a post on setting a reading goal. He had many good suggestions.

Here are the things I would suggest:

1) Read widely. Trevin suggests this as well. I think it is beneficial to read in multiple genres. Read someone who disagrees with you. Read fiction. Read biographies. Read academic works.

2) Read out loud. Certain books just cry to be out to be read aloud. Children's tales, for example (hey read to and with your kids). I also read passages of the Bible outloud when I am trying to catch the meaning better.

3) Have access to a dictionary. A book I am currently reading is fond of using the words illocutionary and perlocutionary, which reminds me I need to go look them up.

4) Read with a pencil in hand. Write notes in a pad or right in the book.

5) Talk to others about what you are reading. It will help you to encode it and may encourage them to read.

6) Read actual books. Reading on the Internet, in my experience, leads to skimming and a cafeteria approach to reading. Go deep. With paper.

7) Don't be afraid of old men (or women). Don't be afraid to read old books. They often have a lot to say. Start with the Puritans.