Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Truth About Grace - by John MacArthur - a review

Over the years I've listened to dozens of messages from John MacArthur, and read a handful of his books.  Generally I enjoy his messages and books due to their careful attention to scripture.  This book had that same attention to detail that I've come to expect from MacArthur.  That said, I left reading the book only lukewarm on it, and uninspired to read the others in this series.

The content is solid beginning to end.  But it is the content that is the issue actually.  MacArthur has taken the subject of grace and mostly removed the joy from it through academic minutia in assembling this book.  I entered into reading this book with the expectation that it would be a lighter read (it's a small/thin book, quite different than most his other books).  I thought it would be an introduction to something he may have written or preached elsewhere, but rather than that it was very dense with all the interesting parts stripped away.  This doesn't remove the truth of what MacArthur is writing about, but it makes it far less enjoyable to read. Realistically the book probably should've been 2-3 times as long with some stories and examples to make it an enjoyable read.  But I had to nearly force myself to keep on reading it.

It is a great resource book however.  Like a mini-commentary on the subject of grace.  Had I entered into it with that mindset, I might have been more interested in it.  Where I think this has a place is on a pastor's shelf as a resource, or to be used as a study/discussion starter in a group setting where the human aspects could be added back in.

So would I recommend it?  With qualifications yes.  It's not where I'd start a new Christian on their path to understanding the concept of grace, but it is a tool that could be useful in a number of settings.  Would I have paid for this book?  Probably not.

From the publisher:

Book Description
Is the experience of God’s grace in your life a thrilling thing? Just thinking about the fact that God, by His own sovereign plan, decided to be gracious to me is overwhelming. There is nothing greater than receiving grace upon grace.” —John MacArthur
Simple definitions can make grace feel like an obvious―even mundane―concept. Nothing could be further from the truth. Grace is the defining feature of the Christian faith. Once we understand how undeserving we are and how much favor we’ve been given, grace becomes shocking, thrilling, inspiring, and contagious.
Best-selling author and pastor John MacArthur illuminates this profound concept with verse upon verse of Scripture. He also shows that misunderstandings about grace have led to some of the church’s greatest problems, perhaps because grace is her most precious gift.
For decades, MacArthur has encouraged countless Christians to develop a deeper understanding of the Bible and a greater respect for God’s truth. In The Truth About series, he now gathers his landmark teachings about core aspects of the Christian faith in one place. These powerful books are designed to give readers a focused experience that centers on God’s character and how it applies to their daily walk of faith.

I was given this copy of the book by BookSneeze to review but am under no obligation to give it a positive review.

Viral - by Leonard Sweet

I was given a copy of Leonard Sweet's book Viral to review recently.  Below are my thoughts.

This is my first Leonard Sweet book I have read (gasp!), and it was well worth it.  Having seen him speak on a couple of occasions, his writing did not disappoint.

Overall a very good and interesting read.  I'd certainly recommend the book.  Looking at culture has become the "in" thing to do, but few do it as well as Sweet.  I would disagree with Sweet on the strength of his categorization of the old culture (Gutenberger - paper & pencil & print) vs. the new culture of Google (electronic & immediate).  I think he overstates the strength of difference between these two groups more than necessary.  He needs to show the differences, but there is more overlap between the groups than Sweet shows in the book.  That said, I realize he did so to state his points, so I'm not going to gripe too loudly over it. And most of the generalities he talks about are accurate much of the time.  This shift in culture that Sweet is pointing out is impacting our churches and our world, and we as Christians need to be aware of that and be on point to work through this change/transition.

Sweet coins a simple yet powerful acronym for the Google culture - TGIF - Twitter, Google, iPhone, and Facebook.  This becomes the focus for much of the book.  Sweet uses these social media platforms to give some good and clear examples of how the church needs to connect with the culture in new ways, and how we present the eternal Truths of the Bible have to be adapted to this new culture.  The Truths remain the same, but how we share them in the context of our culture is constantly changing.  This isn't new news, but Sweet frames it in a fairly modern context quite well.

I think the biggest take away from the book is the need for us to see that the Google culture is still needing and wanting to find what they were created for and why they were created.  The church needs to adapt and make sure we continue to make these connections in relevant ways to people's lives.

One final thought - I know that Sweet runs in PoMo circles that I am somewhat uncomfortable with at times, yet he manages a fair presentation in the book without trying to push the reader to fully embrace things in postmodernism that can be at odds with historic Christianity.  I've heard criticism of him on this in the past, but I didn't see it in this book if it was there.

A few other books by Leonard Sweet:

I Am A Follower

The Greatest Story Never Told

Jesus Manifesto

I was given a review copy of Viral by Waterbrook Multnomah as a part of their Blogging for Books program. I was not obligated in any way to give it a positive review.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

20 Ideas for Dating Your Wife - from Justin Buzzard

Justin Buzzard has a new book coming out called Date your Wife. Below are some ideas from him to do just that.

Men, you need to come up with your own ideas for how to date your wife. You know your wife better than anyone else. Only you know how to best cultivate and guard the woman God has given you. But, sometimes it helps to build off other people's ideas in order to form your own ... My prayer is that the power of the gospel would drive how you date your wife and implement these ideas.
1. Attend a wedding. Sit in the back row and spend the whole time whispering memories from your own wedding.
2. Make a list of ten things your wife loves to do. Each new time you take your wife on a date, do one of those ten things as your date.
3. Take up a new hobby with your wife; do something new that you're both excited about.
4. Do the classic date: dinner and a show. Take your wife to din­ner and to a movie she wants to watch.
5. Take a twelve-month honeymoon with your wife. Relive your honeymoon by scheduling a 24-hour getaway for every month of this year. Each month go somewhere new with your wife.
6. Devote one hour each night for alone time with your wife. Talk about how your days went. Joke around with each other. Cultivate your friendship. Talk honestly about what's going on in your lives. Help each other. Encourage each other. Pray together.
7. Mark your wife's birthday, your wedding anniversary, and Mother's Day on your calendar every year and plan to make those days special.
8. Write a love note to your wife. Tell her all over again what she means to you.
9. Spend an evening stargazing with your wife and talking about dreams you have for the future.
10. Spend an evening reminiscing with your wife about all you've been through together and all God has done and redeemed in your life together.
11.Devote the next month to studying a book of the Bible with your wife. Take twenty minutes several nights a week to read, discuss, and pray through a shorter book such as Ephesians or Philippians.
12. Visit your roots. Visit where your wife grew up and where you grew up. Learn more about each other's backgrounds.
13. Hold your wife's hand often, in public and in private.
14. Tell your wife that you love her.
15. Tell your wife that Jesus loves her more than you do.
16. Set a weekly date night. Each week rotate going out and stay­ing in for your date night.
17. Cancel work for the day and do something special with your wife.
18. Take dancing lessons with your wife.
19. Cut something from your schedule and use that time to date your wife.
20. Vacation with your wife without your kids, without your work, and without your cell phone and computer.
Taken from Date Your Wife by Justin Buzzard, © 2012, pp. 133-139.

Monday, June 04, 2012

5 Questions to Ask as You Read the Bible Daily - from Tim Keller

(HT: Tim Brister)

1. How can I praise him?

2. How can I confess my sins on the basis of this text?

3. If this is really true, what wrong behavior, what harmful emotions or false attitudes result in me when I forget this? Every problem is because you have forgotten something. What problems are you facing?

4. What should I be aspiring to on the basis of this text?

5. Why are you telling me this today?

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Pastoral Counseling wisdom from David Polison

(HT:  Justin Taylor)

How Pastor-Counselors Differ from Secular Counselors

David Powlison’s essay “The Pastor as Counselor” is far and away the best thing I have ever read on the role of pastor-elders in counseling God’s people. It is published in For the Fame of God’s Name and is available to subscribers of CCEF’s The Journal of Biblical Counseling. We have read through it together as an elder council, and I’d encourage other churches to do the same.
Here is one section directed to pastors on their unique role in counseling:
The uniqueness of your message is easy to see. But you already know this. I won’t rehearse the unsearchable riches of Christ, or the 10,000 pertinent implications.
But I do want to note the uniqueness of your message by contrast. Every counselor brings a “message”: an interpretation of problems, a theory that weighs causalities and context, a proposal for cure, a goal that defines thriving humanness. How does your message compare with their messages? Simply consider what our culture’s other counselors do not say.
  • They never mention the God who has a name: YHWH, Father, Jesus, Spirit, Almighty, Savior, Comforter.
  • They never mention that God searches every heart, that every human being will bow to give final account for each thought, word, deed, choice, emotion, belief, and attitude.
  • They never mention sinfulness and sin, that humankind obsessively and compulsively transgress against God.
  • They never mention that suffering is meaningful within God’s purposes of mercy and judgment.
  • They never mention Jesus Christ. He is a standing insult to self-esteem and self-confidence, to self-reliance, to self-salvation schemes, to self-righteousness, to believing in myself.
  • They never mention that God really does forgive sins.
  • They never mention that the Lord is our refuge, that it is possible to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil.
  • They never mention that biological factors and personal history experiences exist within the providence and purposes of the living God, that nature and nurture locate moral responsibility but do not trump responsible intentionality.
  • They never mention our propensity to return evil for evil, how hardships tempt us to grumbling, anxiety, despair, bitterness, inferiority, and escapism.
  • They never mention our propensity to return evil for good, how felicities tempt us to self-trust, ingratitude, self-confidence, entitlement, presumption, superiority, and greed.
  • They never mention that human beings are meant to become conscious worshipers, bowing down in deep sense of personal need, lifting up hands to receive the gifts of the body and blood of Christ, lifting voices in heartfelt song.
  • They never mention that human beings are meant to live missionally, using God-given gifts to further God’s kingdom and glory.
  • They never mention that the power to change does not lie within us.
In other words, they always counsel true to their core convictions.
As a pastor, you mention all these things, or you are no pastor. Even more, you are never content merely to mention or list such realities, as if a troubled person simply needed the bare bones of didactic instruction. Like a skilled musician, you develop a trained ear. In every detail of every person’s story, you learn to hear the music of these unmentioned realities. You help others hear what is actually playing. A relevant, honest pastoral conversation teaches another person how to listen, and then how to join the song. Need I say more? No one else is listening to what you hear. No one else is saying what you have to say. No one else is singing what you believe. No one else is giving to others what you have been given that you might freely give. Every person who “needs counseling” actually needs your unique message.