As the father of two baby girls, parenting books are beginning to show up on my radar. Foolishly, I thought parenting would be easy because I am a Christian and have seen other godly families parent well. I assumed that parenting meant little more than making my children do what I asked them and preaching the gospel faithfully to them until they are adults. However, I was sadly mistaken in my thoughts of parenting being easy and even more mistaken in the method I should use in parenting my children. I have found myself in a constant cycle of frustration and disappointment as my oldest daughter’s will seems to be rather fierce and clashing with my own strong will. After working through Crossway’s daily videos based upon Parenting by Paul Tripp, I knew I needed to make some changes for my own sake as well as for the sake of my children. I was excited to get my hands on it, and I am so glad I spent a few weeks reading and listening to this book. I will certainly be reading this one again and again.
I could spend days writing of the numerous lessons I learned through reading this book, but I will share the three largest takeaways I had while reading Parenting:
Paul Tripp doesn’t offer readers a parenting style that shuns discipline, rules, or structure. In fact, he speaks on the necessity of not letting our kids live as though they are their own gods. Instead, we are to use every bit of our parenting —the fun and exciting moments as well as the painful and tear-filled struggles—to point our children to the gospel. Tripp’s use of realistic scenarios coupled with his excellent writing ability make Parenting an excellent read for parents seeking to raise children in the most godly way possible.
I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
The Human Heart Is Complex
As I read The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life: Connecting Christ to Human Experience by Jeremy Pierre, I saw that the human heart is extremely complex. Whether in a formal counseling setting or in daily life, we must interact with people understanding that they are thinking, feeling, and active beings. We can’t merely operate with them in one aspect of their heart to the neglect of the others. Not only is this vital for all human relationships, but it’s also vital as we relate to God.
Dr. Pierre powerfully impacted my view of God and human interactions. As I learned more about how my heart and the hearts of the people around me worked, I learned more about how each of these aspects of my heart affect my relationship with God and others. I learned that God, through His grace, renews my thoughts, emotions, and actions, and that I need to evaluate each of those areas of my heart in my relationships with my wife, friends, and counselees to be an effective believer and counselor. Since I tend to focus on my thought life rather than my actions, I will now be daily looking to filter all of these areas of my heart through the gospel.
The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life was firmly rooted in the gospel and the Word of God. There were many reminders that we can’t focus on changes in any area of the heart without the grace and mercy of God. Looking back to the first section of the book, the depravity of the heart apart from Christ is a powerful reminder of the need for Christ in order to elicit any change in our lives. As I read this, I was convicted of the many times I seek to change without utterly relying on the grace of God through the gospel.
An Enjoyable Read
I really enjoyed interacting with Pierre in his writing. As I was reading, I felt that he found a good balance between being technical and relatable. Early in the book, he was more technical as he explained the functions of the heart, but as I got more into the book, I felt like he was a counselor or a trainer giving me godly wisdom and counsel for my life and work as a biblical counselor. I have met Dr. Pierre in person, and I know that his personality definitely shined through in his writing.
There were very few places (if any) where I felt myself arguing or questioning Pierre’s rational for his statements. Pierre goes above and beyond to provide readers with the reasons for his main points. He also did a great job of reminding readers where they were, where they had been, and where they were going in the book. I never felt lost or that Dr. Pierre took unnecessary rabbit trails throughout the book.
An Applicable Read
The last few chapters of the book are flooded with extremely applicable questions regarding how to read, reflect, relate, and renew the human heart by looking to God in the various areas of our hearts. I will be seeking to assess how I relate to God, others, and myself, and how those responses should be filtered through the scriptures.
This book particularly focuses on human relationships and interactions, so even my smallest conversations will be impacted by what I learned. As I am thinking through applications for Sunday school, sermons, and community group gatherings, I will now consider the dynamic nature of the hearts of the people I am talking to or teaching. I will not only focus on actions (as I have been tempted to do in the past). I will also focus on how thinking and emotion impact people’s actions as well.
An Excellent Resource
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Not only was it a good introduction to the human interaction aspect of counseling, but it was also a great resource for looking into my own heart on a daily basis. As a natural thinker, I am wired to reject the emotional aspects of my heart to the extent that I fail to notice the impact my emotions have on my thinking and my actions. I am thankful for this excellent work by Dr. Pierre and look forward to using this as an essential tool in my biblical counseling ministry.
I received this book free from the publisher and willingly wrote this review for Cross Focused Reviews.
Michael Horton’s new book Core Christianity is an excellent introduction of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. For the nonbeliever, this is a wonderfully concise introduction to Christianity fit for the task of presenting the basic beliefs of the faith and answering some (but certainly not all) oppositions to Christianity. For the new believer, it is perfect for enhancing their understanding of the core beliefs of the faith and why these truths are so vital. For the seasoned believer, it is a great opportunity to revisit those essential doctrines which may get pushed to the back burner for more pressing “practical” needs. For discipleship, this book is a useful tool that should be in arm’s reach for anyone dedicated to making disciples. Horton skillfully, concisely, and effectively tackles difficult doctrines such as: Jesus’ divinity, the trinity, and God’s goodness.
Horton’s writing style is very welcoming as he brings heavy doctrinal topics with a conversational tone that feels more like a helpful friend than a lecturing professor. This makes the use of terms such as sabellianism, arianism, and other highly theological verbiage more accessible to an audience that isn’t likely reading a systematic theology to further their understanding of biblical doctrines. This is the most practical and helpful aspect of the book. Readers aren’t left with answers they could find in a few moments of a google search, yet they also aren’t left feeling like the algebra 1 student who accidentally wound up in a calculus classroom. With the exception of a few sections, a person could know very little about the Christian faith and still glean much from a single reading of this book. The person looking to know more could read this book several times and gain great depth from this very same book.
Readers a presented with four D’s which help to see how “knowing, experiencing, and living are interconnected” in each main doctrine of the Christian faith. When describing the first of the four D’s — drama— Horton reminds readers that “God reveals what he is like, not in ivory tower speculation but down on the ground in real history.” This means that God revealed Himself in the context of the bible’s big story, not in a systematic theology or dictionary style book. In speaking on doctrine, Horton says, “from the throbbing verbs and adverbs of the drama we are given stable nouns. God himself teaches us that he has acted wise, justly, mercifully, and omnisciently” because he is those things. Men don’t make up doctrine or theology, they get them from the Bible as part of God’s unfolding drama. That drama and doctrine must then lead to doxology which means “praise”, because God revealed Himself so men would worship and glorify Him. Lastly, doxology should yield love and good works which are manifested in discipleship. These four D’s are helpful for readers as they consider the core aspects of true Christianity.
In Core Christianity, Horton presents readers with several doctrines followed by a big picture overview of the bible. After these, he reminds us that we must rely on the scriptures alone to define our story rather than letting our life experiences and opinions define God and his word. To finish the book, readers are called to stop waiting and respond to these truths in faith. Horton emphatically asks readers, “What are you waiting for?”and then follows this question with the reality and unpredictability of death. Finally, he reminds readers that all believers have callings to work for God’s kingdom whether they are ministers, stay-at-home-moms, or factory assembly line workers. This work happens outside the church doors and none of it happens without keeping the gospel at the heart of Christianity. He ends the book with these powerful sentences: “It is this history of Jesus and not that of this age that is the real rudder of destiny—both the story of the world and the story of our own lives. Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.” This is the message and core of Christianity.
I received a free copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
More Than Enough by Lee Hull Moses is a discussion of very pertinent topics for both Christians and Non-Christians alike. Moses discusses topics such as: simple living, use of financial resources, sustainable use of energy and water, growing our own food, and even making our clothes! She explains that these things may or may not be easily changed or even possible for most people-including herself. Readers are reminded that hypocrisy is inevitable in some ways because we can never perfectly grasp the complex issues that are related to wealth and sustainable living. More Than Enough is one woman’s attempt to live a more sustainable life in a country that is riddled with excess and materialistic tendencies.
The positive aspects of this book are numerous. Moses presents very convicting questions and facts about the complexities of life, our use of money, the amount of stuff we have piled up, doing good things for our neighbors (wherever they may be), and using our voices to make a change in local and federal government issues. She is very honest and open when she says, “I know that I can’t ignore the broken world just because my life is good, and also—though this has taken along time coming—I know that just because the world is broken doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy my good, sweet, holy life”. It is a difficult road to consider the riches of being a middle or upper class American and trying to live a lifestyle which doesn’t crush the people in the world around us. The reality, she says, is that “most of us are not going to figure out how to live self-sustainably”. Moses’ aim is clear in the opening pages as she asks: “So how do we make faithful choices in those everyday tasks of living in the world?” She continues, “Im not going to tell you what choices to make or how to live. I’ll tell you what I’ve learned and what my family has tried—and sometimes what we’ve been meaning to try but haven’t.” Her aim is to give stories, examples, and biblical hope for people seeking change in their materially abundant lives. The point of this book is not that rich people should have less, but that everyone should have enough. For those who have more than enough, she is urging that they find a way to be satisfied with enough and give to those who have less than that.
Though the previous aspects of the book make it a good read for people interested in these issues, I would recommend reading this book very cautiously or finding alternative books which works through these issues. One issue I had with this book came in the form of Moses’ subtle—or maybe not so subtle— nudges in the liberal evangelical direction. Being a reformed, conservative evangelical, I found it a bit alarming that the author nonchalantly mentions participation in yoga classes, support of female pastors, the practice of mindfulness, and what seems to be a supportive stance on the legalization of gay marriage (she says, “gay marriage is finally legal” in a seemingly positive light). I also felt that this book was heavy on social justice and lighter on the essence of the gospel. The gospel is mainly about sinful people being restored to a right relationship with the loving God of the universe so that they may dwell with Him for all eternity in joyful worship and adoration. Christians are indeed called to live as lights in a dark world and bring change. They are also called to make disciples until Christ returns. I feel that a more gospel centered emphasis is important in preventing people from a self-centered, legalistic pursuit at change that must begin on a heart level.
If you read More Than Enough you will surely gain some very valuable insights into social justice, sustainable living, and being agents of change in this world. These are certainly issues that the Church as a whole needs to think through. However, there are more conservative books such as: Radical, Follow Me, or Counter Culture by David Platt which offer a more balanced view of how to bring change in the world by keeping the gospel central and leaving out the liberal aspects discussed above.
I received an advance copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. (less)
In the midst of all the turmoil in America right now, it could be easy to scroll Facebook and news apps all day and not open our Bibles. Though they are not specifically wrong things to do (in moderation), reading the news or social media can take our eyes away from God and the praise He deserves. We may be thinking to ourselves, "How can we praise God in a time like this?" King David saw his fair share of terrible days and yet penned (inspired by the Holy Spirit, of course) some of the greatest songs ever written. I came across Psalm 145 while doing my daily reading from the M'Cheyne Bible Reading Plan (you can find it here). That Psalm had these 29 reasons to praise God every day:
If we prayed through these attributes each day, we would find ourselves continuing "steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving" (Colossians 4:2). Pray this Psalm everyday if it will deepen your communion with God and cause you to say, with David, "Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever."
John Piper's Living in the Light was a short and simple book about money, sex, and power. More precisely, it was a book about God's glory. Though money, sex, and power can be like an iceberg ready to sink the ship of our souls, Piper says, "they may be floating islands of food when the stores of our ship have run out, or fuel when we are stalled in the water, or the rarest fruit to sweeten our dreary sailing diet." How did we go so wrong? We have all exchanged the glory of God for other things. This focus makes Living in the Light such a great book for those seeking a deeper understanding of sin, especially in those areas. The opening chapter ends with a powerful heart check: "We can have a heart that treasures this world above God, or a heart that treasures God above this world. And thus we can glorify God as all-satisfying, or defame him as inferior to the things he has made. We can live in the light, or in the darkness."
Piper defines sex as: "experiencing erotic stimulation, seeking to get the experience, or seeking to give the experience." The first area that our sinful depravity impacts is human sexuality (Romans 1 seems eerily familiar to our day). Abusing God's gift of sex ultimately causes us to prefer the gift more than the Giver. He defines money as "some kind of currency" which can be used to pursue something you want by using it, giving it, or spending it. The first and last commandments refer to keeping God at the center of one's life, not our possessions or others' possessions. Money always fails those who have hope in it. Power is defined as "the capacity to get what you want, or the capacity to pursue what you value." Piper uses the image of a saw which can be used to either cut firewood or to deface an heirloom. Each of these gifts— money, sex, and power— are dangerous because they are often used to exchange the glory of God for less glorious things.
What is the remedy for our sinful, God-dishonoring uses of sex, money, and power? It is clearly found in the gospel. We must "wake up to the all-satisfying glory of God." Piper uses a great analogy of the solar system to describe how we should view money, sex, and power. Without the gravitational pull of the sun (God), the planets (money, sex, and power) would fly "wildly and dangerously out of orbit." The gospel places God at the center of our lives through Christ's justification (our guilt removed through Christ's death on the cross), the Spirit's regeneration (being resurrected to new life), and sanctification (beholding and conforming to the image and glory of Christ).
The gospel transforms us to view sex, money, and power the way Jesus did — even in the midst of a world which parades them in such sinful ways. This is what it means to be living in the light. I would highly recommend this book for counseling, discipleship, or just a primer on issues related to the many abuses of money, sex, and power in our society and our churches. Living In The Light is a powerful reminder of the darkness in the world around us and how we must constantly look to the Life and Light of men (John 1:4) as we strive to avoid conforming to that world.
In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank The Good Book Company and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
In this small and brilliant book, Christopher Ash discusses an easily seen yet rarely admitted issue-- ministry burnout. He stated that his purpose for writing Zeal Without Burnout is to "help us discern the difference between sacrifice and foolish heroism, and so to guard against needless burnout". He achieved this purpose nearly effortlessly with his powerful exhortations, humble transparency, and engaging real-life stories of burnout in the context of Christian ministry. This is not simply a book for ministers--it is for the whole congregation as we are each called to serve and use our spiritual gifts for the glory of God and the building of His kingdom.
Ash leads off with this powerful fact: "In the USA it is estimated that some 1500 people leave pastoral ministry each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure." That is a significant number considering the declining view of Christianity in America. Though church leaders are falling off due to sins and church conflict, many are also burning out. The reality about burnout is that many don't know they are burning out until the wick is almost completely gone. To make matters even more difficult, many people "burn out for Jesus" because the bible tells us to sacrifice our lives for Christ. What exactly is burnout? It is the culmination of multiple stressors, seemingly crushing pressures, and the relentless desire to complete the tasks at hand which eventually leaves people literally flat on their backs with nearly no energy to do anything at all.
In Zeal Without Burnout, Ash shows us what he calls "sustainable sacrifice", which means sacrificing ourselves in a way that does justice to both Romans 12:1 and John 15:5. "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30) comes to mind as the discussion of man's frailty is considered in light of ministry efforts. What are the things that frail humans need to remember as they pursue sustainable sacrifice? We need sleep, Sabbath rest, friends, and inward renewal. God needs none of these things. As we reflect on these realities, we can begin to view ourselves and God properly which will require us to adjust our lives accordingly. This should humble us and draw us to reliance upon God rather ourselves. This is sustainable sacrifice. This is God-honoring zeal.
Perfectly placed true stories of burnout are littered throughout this short book which enhance our knowledge of just how deceitful our sinful hearts can be at hiding our sinful views of ministry performance. Along with these stories are much needed warnings against pride, encouragements for fellow workers, and reminders to delight in the grace of God in our lives. Burnout is not the end of the world and may actually be a divine wake-up call, but is also not the path we ought to pursue. It is not necessarily a sign of spiritual failure because life and ministry sometimes hit us with curve balls that knock us off our feet. In most cases, burnout is preventable as we--in the context of the local church--observe our lives and remain watchful for the slippery slope that leads to burnout. This book has a place in the library of every believer (especially those serving in formal ministry) as we navigate this complex 21st century world. Zeal Without Burnout is the type of book that should be read at least every few years as a spiritual burnout "check-up", especially for those of us in positions which lend themselves to burnout.
In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank The Good Book Company and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
True Love Vs. Tolerance
We Are All Sinners
Before we get started, this post is not specifically about homosexuality. Though homosexuality fits the context of this post, this could be written about many of the culturally appropriate sins of this day and age. The above passage from Romans 1 should send shockwaves through all who read it. This passage follows one of the Bible’s most powerful and dreadful descriptions of all humans. (Romans 1:18-23) Yes, that includes you. We have all known God yet not honored him as such. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) We have all exchanged the glory of God for things of this earth. We are all under sin, whether Jew or Greek, black or white. (Romans 3:9).
In light of the Romans 1 passage above, God didn’t look at sinners and say, “ah… well… since I made them that way, I better just accept them as they are.” He “gave them up” to their sins. (Romans 1:24). He gave us up to our sins. He didn’t do it out of hatred. He didn’t do it because he wanted humans to die and burn in hell for eternity. He did it because he is holy and we are not. God created Adam in his image on the “very good” sixth day of creation, but sometime later, Adam sinned and brought death to all mankind. (Genesis 1:31; 3:1-24; Romans 5:12) Now we can’t be God’s presence because we are sinful.
I say all that to say this. Tolerance, as defined by Webster’s dictionary, means “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own”. (1) If tolerance means sympathy, then, by all means, sympathize with people who struggle with homosexuality, gluttony, lust, porn addiction, fornication, or any other sin! God did this throughout scripture. However, if tolerance means “indulgence” in sin and changing your beliefs to fit social norms, it is unloving to do so.
True Love Must Have Truth
Jesus is the perfect example of love on this earth. He is God. He is man. He showed love to sinners. He showed love to the adulterous woman (John 8:7), the woman from Samaria (John 4), and the thief on the cross (Luke 23:32-43). He showed love in rebuking the self-righteous Pharisees. He didn’t do it by redefining sin. He showed his love by recognizing sin for what it is and pointing people to have the Living Water. He showed ultimate love by dying for his enemies. (Romans 5:10. The essence of love is not accepting sin as good. It is recognizing sin for what it is and pointing people to Christ. Love is not trampling others or being run over by them. Love is calling sin what it is and pointing to the cross. Sometimes the truth is painful (John 8:44, Matt. 21:12), but it is always necessary if we are to love others. Love your neighbors, love your enemies, but never forget to love God.