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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category


In the fourth section of A Proverbs-Driven Life author Anthony Selvaggio addresses friends.  Proverbs has much to say about friends and their influence upon our lives (and us upon them as well).

Most of us have had a sketchy track record with friends.  I know I did before I became a Christian.  I lived in a normal middle-class suburban neighborhood, but found that many of my friends were a less than positive influence me.  We found opportunities to sin, sometimes just for the hell of it (to paraphrase Augustine).

Yet I remember disconnecting myself from one important relationship over the issue of drugs.  I tried pot, but decided that was not how I wanted to live (praise God for common grace).  It cost me a friendship.  But now I can see the toll drugs took on his life.  I made a wise choice.  But I made so many poor ones too- choices that would plague me for years.

Yes, we need God to give us wisdom about friends.  Selvaggio summarizes it as “a Proverbs-driven life knows that friendship is intended to be redemptive.”  He and I share a love for The Lord of the Rings, and one of the main themes in that book is friendship.  He focuses on Sam and Frodo, but you also see the ties between Aragorn, Legolas & Gimli as well as Merry and Pippen.

Friends, as Selvaggio notes, are hard to gain and even harder to keep.

“We so readily sin against one another, take offense where none was intended, or permit neglect to creep in.  Left to ourselves, it can be difficult to know what words and deeds will strengthen and maintain our most vital relationships.”

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Oh, happy day it is.  I learned from WTS Books that The Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible is available again (hardcover, genuine leather, sample pages). 

This is my favorite Study Bible.  It uses my preferred translation (the NIV).  It provides a good balance between accuracy and read-ability.  The General Editor is one of my former professors- Dr. Richard Pratt.  The study notes are extensive, and come from the Reformed Heritage.  The ESV Study Bible which came out in 2008 has a leg up when it comes to charts and maps.  But I think this Study Bible has a leg up  regarding the translation (I know some will disagree) and consistency of theological approach.  This is the Study Bible I recommend.

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I’ve done a few posts on A Gospel Primer for Christians: Learning to See the Glories of God’s Love by Milton Vincent already.  This would be my review of this great little book.  As the title indicates, the focus on the book is on the gospel for Christians.  In the final part- Surprised by the Gospel- Pastor Vincent relates how he finally grasped that the gospel is ALWAYS the basis for our acceptance before God.  It is not just about our initiation to Christianity, and then we work our tails off to stay in God’s good graces.  He was at the end of his religious rope when he spent time meditating on Romans 5 and it all clicked for him.

The book includes a series of meditations on the gospel to rehearse or preach the gospel to yourself each day.  Then he includes 2 gospel narratives, one prose and the other poetic (see the Table of Contents and Forward). 

The heart of the book is really the meditations.  I recommend going through one a day, spending time to mull over the truth of what he is saying.  The goal is not to finish the book, but to sink the gospel and its implications increasingly deeper into your heart.  The gospel is not just about our justification, but about how Jesus severes the root of sin and is the power of godliness. 

“Never be content with your current grasp of the gospel.  The gospel is life-permeating, world-altering, universe-changing truth.  It has more facets than a diamond.  Its depths man will never exhaust.”  C.J. Mahaney

So this little book is intensely practical.  I highly recommend getting a copy and keeping it handy to drink deep of the gospel.

I’ll close this with a quote from Horatio Bonar that he includes:

“Terror accomplishes no real obedience.  Suspence brings forth no fruit unto holiness.  No gloomy uncertainty as to God’s favor can subdue one lust, or correct our crookedness of will.  But the free pardon of the cross uproots sin, and withers all its branches.  Only the certainty of love, forgiving love, can do this.”

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You might be asking, “what happened to part 2?”  Part 1 was mistakenly saved as a draft instead of published, so Considering Proverbs and Work is actually part 2 of my review of A Proverbs Driven Life by Anthony Selvaggio.  Did you catch that?  Do you care?

The third part of the book addresses wealth.  His little summary statement is : A Proverbs-Driven life understands the place and purpose of material wealth.  This is much needed in our day and place.  American Christians’ perspective on material wealth is only slightly less skewed than the average non-Christians’. 

Selvaggio starts by addressing the heart.  This is where all our problems with money and wealth come from- our bent toward selfishness.

“… money is not the basic problem at all, but rather our love for it. … The moral issues regarding wealth arise entirely from how we acquire it, relate to it, and use it.  In other words, the problem is us.”

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I consider Proverbs to be “preventative grace”.  It was initially written to prepare young men for adulthood by providing practical wisdom.  It was to help them avoid the pitfalls of life’s choices rather than get out of them.  So, when I saw Anthony Selvaggio’s A Proverbs Driven Life, I was interested.  When I was offered a copy for free to review- I was estatic.

Before Selvaggio gets into the various topics that Proverbs covers, he wants to orient people to what Proverbs are, and aren’t.  Since Proverbs is a book about wisdom, it is about everyday life.  It is not about laws & precepts (he hits that again in a later section) but more like signposts.  Proverbs are generalisms that help us to make good choices by cluing us in to the typical outcomes. 

We need this book because, as he says, “people make a lot of short-sighted, self-centered decisions.”  And those decisions bring lots of misery to them and others.  We are a people who profoundly lack wisdom.

Proverbs offers us future-oriented wisdom and guidance so we can make wise decisions and live in ways that please and exalt God.

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There is a new book out, Get Outta My Face: How to Reach Angry, Unmovtivated Teens with Biblical Counsel by Rick Horne, that offers assistance to families, ministers and counselors.  WTS Books has this book for 65% off , an introductory price of $4.88, until January 24, 2009 at noon.  Then it will be the customary 30% off, not a bad deal either.  [ WTS Books sold out, but received 500 more copies of the book.  When they are gone, so is the special price!]

Here is what some other authors have said about this book:

“Rick Horne has invested in teens his whole life. He has learned that he is more like them than unlike them. From years of first hand experience, he knows how to talk with them and his is not afraid of the tough ones. What you will read here is the wisdom of a man who has experienced the courage and hope that transforming grace can give to you and that hard teenager God has chosen for you to be near. This book is a call to action with biblical perspectives and practical steps that God can use to change the teenager and you as well.”  Paul David Tripp, author of Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, co-author of How People Change among other books highly recommended by Cavman.

“Rick Horne knows teens the kind that won’t talk and those that won’t stop talking. If you have a teenager, you need this book. In fact, don’t wait for the teen years! Arm yourself now with the timeless truths from this book that counsels moms and dads with gospel-hope for teenage trials.”  Dave Harvey author of When Sinners Say “I Do”.  (Highly recommended by Cavman)

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The second main section of Anthony Selvaggio’s book A Proverbs Driven Life addresses work- work as divine calling & working with integrity.  Both of these are important subjects in our day and culture.

Let’s not think simply about “job” because we work when we clean up the house, do laundry, mow the law or take on volunteer ministry tasks.  For instance, I am called (voca) to work as pastor, husband, father, homeowner, son, brother, pet owner … I think you get the point.  Each takes time and requires integrity.

Selvaggio does this by defining work as “any set of tasks to be performed in the pursuit of a particular goal.”  That is a good, broad definition.  We tend toward extremes in regard to work:  Why?! and Why stop?!  Some of us are lazy and need to get off our duffs in front of the TV and get to work.  Others of us make an idol of work, resist rest and need to slow down for the sake of our spiritual lives and family life.

When I look at how others may have ‘prospered’, I am tempted to think I’m lazy.  But CavWife reminds me that I put more time into parenting than they do.  I’m working, just at different things- things that don’t necessarily generate income.  But work is never to be measured by income alone, but by what God has called us to do.  Yet, most of us need to hear the warnings about sluggards.

“What an ironic testimony to the extent of our fallen nature!  Here the book of Proverbs calls for humanity, the very pinnacle of God’s creation, to be instructed by a mindless, soulless, tiny insect.  Man, who was placed on earth to have dominion over all creation, must sit at the feet of the ant to learn a rudimentary lesson on work.”

Oh that more of us would listen.  Notice the homes, families, businesses and churches that are in a state of serious neglect and disrepair.  But this is a gospel issue, as Selvaggio notes:

“Refusal to embrace a diligent work ethic is sinful because it violates a primary call God has given to us as Christians- to echo our Creator who works.  The sin of the sluggard (like all sin) has consequences – poverty and want.”

The gospel, when preached for sanctification, points to Christ’s work in us to apply His work for us such that we become like Him.  He works (and rests).  As we are conformed to His likeness, we will work and rest properly.

Selvaggio does not fool around.  He goes for the throat- calling out our excuses, lack of initiative, pride and idolatry.  He preaches the law to drive us to Christ in this area.

“Both (the sluggard and workaholic) are interested in avoiding responsibilities that don’t interest them.  The workaholic simply avoids things by a different technique- crowding them out of his calendar.  And where the sluggard is sure to suffer economic loss, the workaholic suffers losses that are often more relational than monetary, but nevertheless real, lasting, and painful.”

He points to Jacob to illustrate the change that can happen in a person.  Jacob was a man who lacked integrity.  After God descended and wrestled him into submission, Jacob becomes a man of integrity (though not perfectly).  We can work, by God’s grace, with integrity.  This is about working hard and working honestly.

“Greed can tempt us to seek an unfair advantage whenver we buy and sell.  Laziness or malice toward employers can tempt us to cut corners in the quality and quantity of our work. … Much of our sin is simply an effort to gain by sinful means the satisfaction or security that God has promised to give us freely.  (Make no mistake- all our grasping, selfish, Jacob-like sins are among those for which Christ died, and his forgiveness is freely available.)”

Anthony Selvaggio once again does us a service by not just summarizing the teaching regarding work from Proverbs, but by putting them within the context of the gospel.  I recommend this to all who work- which is nearly 100% of us.

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In Galatians 1-2 one of the dominant themes is the fear of man.  Paul, in lovingly yet boldly confronting the Galatians, and exposing the false teachers was living in the fear of God rather than the fear of man.  He was not accomodating the gospel to please anyone, recognizing the divine origin of that gospel.

On the other hand you have the account of Peter in Antioch.  He, again, succombs to the fear of man (his besetting sin, and lest you’re too hard on him- you’ve got some too!).  He shrunk back from fellowship with Gentile Christians and hypocritically followed the dietary laws out of fear, not conviction.  And Barnabas joined him.  Two important Christian leaders fell victim to this sin- and Paul displayed gospel boldness by confronting Peter publicly.

While not referring to these events, Milton Vincent talks about gospel boldness in A Gospel Primer for Christians.

“Boldness is critical.  Without boldness, my life story will be one of great deeds left undone, victories left unwon, petitions left unprayed, and timely words unsaid.  If I wish to live only a pathetically small portion of the life God has prepared for me, then I need no boldness.  But if I want my life to bloom full and loom large for the glory of God, then I must have boldness- and nothing so nourishes boldness in me like the gospel!

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The second section of Graeme Goldworthy’s book Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics focuses on Challenges to Evangelical Hermeneutics.  In this section he is essentially tracing the history of biblical interpretation with an eye to the way the gospel has been eclipsed in various times and methods.

This is no easy matter to accomplish since we are talking 2,000 years here.  Some of the issues involved are very heady (intellectual) as well.  As a result, some things may have gotten generalized or flatted.  But, who wants to read a 900 page on hermeneutics (okay, there are 3 of you out there).  It was adapted from his class on the subject, so summarization is a key thing to keep in mind.

The early church wrestled with allegory and typology.  There are proper, and improper, ways to deal with them.  Many a heresy has been developed through the use of allegory.  What he says here is helpful:

  • While typology looked for historical patterns in the Old Testament to which Christ corresponded, allegory was based on the accidental similarities in language and concepts.
  • Typology was dependent on the historical interpretation, while allegory was not.

While discussing the medieval church, he mentions Peter Lombard whose interpretative method sounds very similar to that used by many dispensationalists today “The promises in the two Testaments also differ in that those of the Old Testament are earthly and those of the New Testament are heavenly.”   Goldsworthy also traces Aquinas’ grace-nature dualism which became the standard Roman Catholic hermeneutic after the Reformation.  It is semi-pelagian at best.

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Read this great bit this morning from A Gospel Primer for Christians.  It reminds me of much that John Piper and Samuel Storms have said, echoing the words of Edwards, Calvin and others.  Plenty to consider here.

Though saved, I am daily beset by a sinful flesh that always craves those things that are contrary to the Spirit.  These fleshly lusts are vicious enemies, constantly waging war against the very good of my soul.  Yet they promise me fullness, and their promises are so deliciously sweet that I often find myself giving in to them as if they were friends that have my best interests at heart.

You don’t hear many people talk like that.  But this is the reality of our sinful nature and the power of temptation.

On the most basic of levels, I desire fullness, and fleshly lusts seduce me by attaching themselves to this basic desire.  They exploit the empty spaces in me, and they promise that fullness will be mine if I give in to their demands.  When my soul sits empty and is aching for something to fill it, such deceptive promises are extremely difficult to resist.

Yes, it is when we are empty that we linger or roam about looking for something to fill that hole in the soul.  It can even be a good thing used wrongly to medicate the ache in our soul (zonked in front of the TV or internet).  But sometimes we seek the forbidden to fill the hole.  I hear today, for instance, that the porn industry pulled in over $7 billion last year.  That’s 1/3 of what we spent on fast food (another vice of ours). 

But we think we are the only one.  And Satan likes us to think that!  He heaps up guilt, shame and condemnation.  We isolate ourselves (as Bonhoeffer notes) trying to find a scrap of self-righteousness that might ease the new pain of guilt.

Consequently, the key to mortifying the fleshly lusts is to eliminate the emptiness within me and replace it with fullness, and I accomplish this by feasting on the gospel.  Indeed, it is in the gospel that I experience a God who glorifies Himself by filling me with His fullness. …  And He lavishes gospel blessings upon me with the goal that I “be filled up to all the fullnes of God.”

What happens to my appetites for sin when I am filled with the fullness of God in Christ?  Jesus provides this answer: “He who continually comes to me will never hunger or thirt again.”  Indeed, as I perpetually feast on Christ and all of his blessings found in the gospel, I find that my hunger for sin diminishes and the lies of lust simply lose their appeal.  … And nothing so mortifies the flesh like satisfaction in him.  

This is what is missing in so much preaching today.  This is why books like this, and especially Dynamics of Spiritual Life by Richard Lovelace, are so important.  If you are a pastor, you need to read that book- repeatedly!

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In my prep for the beginning of Galatians, I read this in Luther’s commentary:

“Let us therefore arm ourselves with these and like verses of the Holy Scripture, that we may be able to answer the devil (accusing us, and saying: You are a sinner, and therefore you are damned) in this sort:  “Christ has given Himself for my sins; therefore, Satan, you shall not prevail against me when you go about to terrify me in setting forth the greatness of my sins, and so to bring me into heaviness, distrust, despair, hatred, contempt and blaspheming of God.  As often as you object that I am a sinner, you call me to remembrance of the benefit of Christ my Redeemer, upon whose shoulders, and not upon mine, lie all my sins; for ‘the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all,’ and ‘for the transgression of the people he was striken’ (Isaiah 53:6,8).  Wherefore, when you say I am a sinner, you do not terrify me, but comfort me above measure.””

We tend to get cowed down by our guilt.  We need to start saying “So what, Satan?” because we look to the crucified and risen One, and “there is no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Jesus.”

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I’m excited to be studying Galatians for the next 3 months.  It is a controversial book these days- particularly in the dispute over the meaning of justification.  I take the historical, Reformed Protestant view as espoused in the Westminter Confession of Faith where we are declared righteous because God imputes Jesus’ righteousness to us.  Anyway, here are some of the resources I’ll be using and some I wish I was using.

What I’m using:

  • Commentary on Galatians: Modern-English Version by Martin Luther (The link is for the Crossway version, sorry).  Classic!  There is some great stuff in here from the man who recaptured the doctrine of justification triggering the Reformation.
  • Commentary on Galatians by John Calvin from his Commentary set.  Have to use it!
  • The Message of Galatians (The Bible Speaks Today series) by John Stott.  Tried and true, this will be my 3rd go round with Stott.  Great stuff, and not overly technical.
  • Galatians and Ephesians (New Testament Commentary) by William Hendriksen

What I Wish I Had Handy:

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I was pondering this from A Gospel Primer for Christians yesterday.

“According to Scripture, God deliberately designed the gospel in such a way as to strip me of pride and leave me without any grounds for boasting in myself whatsoever.  This is actually a wonderful mercy from God, for pride is at the root of all my sin.  … Therefore, if I am to experience deliverance from sin, I must be delivered from the pride that produces it.  Thankfully, the gospel is engineered to accomplish this deliverance.

Preaching the gospel to myself each day mounts a powerful assault against my pride and serve to establish humility in its place.  Nothing suffocates my pride more than daily reminders regarding the glory of my God, the gravity of my sins, and the crucifixion of God’s own Son in my place.  Also, the gracious love of God, lavished on me because of Christ’s death, is always humbling to remember, especially when viewed against the backdrop of the Hell I deserve.”

He points to a few important ways that the gospel undercuts my pride, which is a source of many/most of my sins.  My sin was so awful that its forgiveness required the death of God’s own Son.  Yet He loved me in my unloveable condition.  My pride & His gracious love put Jesus on the Cross.  I have nothing about which to boast- except Christ.

“Pride wilts in the atmosphere of the gospel; and the more pride is mortified within me, the less frequent are my moments of sinful contention with God and with others.  Conversely, humility grows lushly in the atmosphere of the gospel, and the more humility flourishes within me, the more I experience God’s grace along with the strengthening His grace provides.  Additionally, such humility intensifies my passion for God and causes my heart increasingly to thrill whenever He is praised.”

You can tell whether the gospel is being preached and believed or not by the level of pride and demandingness in a congregation or person’s life.  This is part of the problem with Joel Osteen (and other prosperity teachers).  They demand things from God that He has not promised.  Their doctrines promote pride and selfishness- which are diametrically opposed to the sound living produced by sound doctrine in accordance with the gospel.

It is this pride which drives the fights and battles we find in James 4.  They have made good things ultimate things (as Keller would say).  The cure is to humble yourself before God.  The gospel is God’s means to humble us (and how it plays out in providence).  As humbled people, we submit to God rather than clamor for our way.  We become gentle as we plead for others to submit to God’s way.

I suspect we could all use more gospel humility.

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I started to see this book pop up on people’s blogs a few years ago.  The title, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation by Graeme Goldsworthy, intrigued me.  So, using a gift certificate, I bought the book.  Recently, excited to begin reading, a friend wondered aloud why we need to read another book on hermeneutics.

I’m glad I didn’t listen.  I have not yet finished the book, but I’ve found it quite stimulating, understandable and grappling with an important topic: how should we, as evangelical Christians, interpret the Scriptures?

Here we will cover Part 1 of the book: Evangelical Prolegomena to Hermeneutics.   Goldsworthy introduces the idea of presuppositions into the question of hermeneutics: will we assume the supreme authority of God or assume human autonomy?  This is the question upon which so much hinges in biblical interpretation.  Our assumptions or presuppositions, in addition to this one, greatly affect the effectiveness of our attempts to understand, explain and apply the text of Scripture.

“The function of hermeneutics could be stated as the attempt to bridge the gap between the text inside its world and the readers/hearers inside their world.”

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I’m reading my brother-in-law’s copy of A Gospel Primer for Christians by Milton Vincent.  It should be read slowly as I’m discovering.  That way you can meditate on the greatness of the gospel and its connection to our lives today.  Vincent reminds us that the gospel is for Christians- we never outgrow our need for the gospel in this earthly life.  As a result, we need to continually preach the gospel to ourselves.  This is not as simplistic as it sounds, and he addresses the many results of the gospel we need to remember.

“Additionally, with the gospel proving itself to be such a boon in my own life, I realize that the greatest gift I can give to my fellow-Christians is the gospel itself.  Indeed, I love my fellow-Christians not simply because of the gospel, but I love them best when I am loving them with the gospel!  And I do this not merely by speaking gospel words to them, but also by living before them and generously relating to them in a gospel manner.  Imparting my life to them in this way, I thereby contribute to their experience of the power, the Spirit, and the full assurance of the gospel.”

A great summary of the point of many of Paul’s epistles.  Further:

“Hence, the more I comprehend the full scope of the gospel, the more I value the church for which Christ died, and the more I value the role that I play in the lives of my fellow-Christians, and the more I appreciate the role that they must be allowed to play in mine.”

The gospel banishes individualism and independence.  Jesus doesn’t just work for and in me, but worked for US and works in US.

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As part of his chapter on Worldliness in Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges talks about money and how Christians use it.  First, let’s see his definition of worldliness.

“Worldliness means accepting the values, mores, and practices of the nice, but unbelieving, society around us without discerning whether or not thos values, mores, and practices are biblical.”

Pretty good definition.  It is when we are shaped by the world instead of being conformed to Christ in how we approach seemingly trivial matters.  He points to how Christians use money as a place where we are often quite worldly.  We often don’t examine how we spend our money- only if we have enough to get what we want.  We tend to get caught in that self-centered approach to living when it comes to “our” money.

Evangelicals are giving far less money to their churches than they did in years past.  He notes that in 8 evangelical denominations (not mainline ones) people give only 4.4% of their income.  They are spending more money on themselves by keeping up with technological toys, collecting music or movies, big boy toys (boats, snowmobiles..), eating out often, etc.  But here was what disturbed me even more.

“Not only are we giving less to our churches, but it seems that more of what we do give is spent on ourselves.  In 1920, the percentage of giving to missions from total offerings was just over 10 percent.  But by 2003, that figure had declined to just under 3 percent.  That means we spent 97 cents of every dollar on our own local programs and ministries while sending 3 cents overseas.”

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Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate by Jerry Bridges is long overdue.  Jerry has done us a service by addressing this topic, and particularly in a way that points us to Christ in the process.  It is not a book filled with condemnation, but one that seeks to convict us while reminding us of Christ’s work for us and in us.  Since there is a discussion guide available, many small groups or SS classes could profitably use these materials and work through their sin together.

Bridges starts by building the much needed case for why we need to look at these things in the first place.  He overcomes some sad areas of ignorance among Christians.  Before he addresses those sinse we overlook, he discusses The Malignancy of Sin, The Remedy for Sin and the Power of the Holy Spirit.  There is even a short chapter on Dealing with Sins.  This establishes a gospel-centered focus which should keep the book from just being a finger in your eyes.  Bridges also puts himself in the boat with us, sharing some of his own struggles with these sins.

In terms of the sins he addresses, they are: ungodliness, anxiety & frustration, discontentment, unthankfulness, pride, selfishness, lack of self-control, impatience and irritability, anger, judgmentalism, envy, jealousy, sins of the tongue and worldliness.  An impressive list.  He could have done more, but I feel enough conviction.  Yes, we have normalized many of these sins with a variety of excuses.  We write them off to anything but our sinfulness, be it genetics, nurture etc.

Bridges’ work with the Puritans is evident to me, as he dissects each sin so you get a better idea of its many manifestations.  His book is readable, not filled with big technical theological verbiage.  He writes for the average person.  But it is difficult to read precisely because we find ourselves represented, in a negative light, so very often.   It is tough to root out the sins we don’t hate, and don’t even recognize as sins.  Bridges assists us in this process so the gospel gains a stronger foothold in our lives.

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I finished reading Love Walked Among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus by Paul Miller just before heading off to New York for a week.  Paul is the son of C. John (Jack) Miller, and has a ministry, See Jesus,  that offers 2 helpful small group programs.  The Person of Jesus is based on this book, and PrayerLife.  Both are interactive studies that come from a strong grace-orientation.  But, back to the book.

One of the things I found interesting was the variety of endorsements.  It does my heart good to see Tremper Longman, Steve Brown, Jerry Bridges, Dan Allender and Joni Eareckson Tada endorsing the book.  Max Lucado … not someone whose opinion really matters to me.  Brian McLaren … interesting choice.  Glad he endorsed it, it may mean he’s keeping his toe within the bounds of historic Christianity.

That last sentence is indicative of why a guy like me needs to read this book.  It reveals just how little I love like Jesus.  I can see why Brian McLaren would like most of the book- but he probably struggled with the last few chapters.  You’ll see why.

Paul’s 2 main premises is that Jesus alone shows us what true love looks like in action, and that we can only love well because we have been loved perfectly (including thru his penal substitutionary atonement- which is something McLaren has discounted publicly).  To bring us along, Paul uses numerous incidents from Jesus’ life to show us the richness of variety in his love, and the many barriers we have to showing love to others.  So this book is often convicting as our judgmentalism, self-righteousness, legalism and more are put on display as violating the 2 great commandments upon which all the Law and the Prophets hang.

But the emphasis is positive- love shows compassion, speaks the truth, depends on God and is energized by faith.  Miller weaves those biblical accounts from the life of Jesus with personal stories (he is not the hero of any of them), and some great quotes by various figures from history.  So you will find that it is an easy book to read, even if it hits you hard at times.

But it is not a self-help, try harder book.  The book ends with a section on how love moves from life to death.  It is about the centrality of Jesus’ sacrificial death, and how our lives are intended to follow that same track.  He is our model as well as our Substitute (see 1 Peter for plenty of that tension).  As a result, the book challenges those of us who err toward Phariseeism AND those who err toward a more “liberal” view of Jesus that maximizes his Incarnation while rejecting his finished work.  Miller does a great job of maintaining that tension of a suffering Savior whose love is rich and varied, perfectly suitable for the differing needs of its object.   So the book is biblical, accessible and applicable.  I heartily put my name up there with the other endorsees (even McLaren).  See, God’s using it in my life too.

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I was off to the airport a bit early this morning thanks to the 5 inches (and counting) of snow that fell overnight and into the morning.  I had a 12:30 flight home.  The snow made slow going, which was not helped by the driver’s incessent need to look around and see damage from last week’s ice storm.  He slowed down even more.  A few times we were caught behind snow plows or caught in an accident slowdown.  So, the time before my flight decreased as my anxiety increased.

Shortly after 11 we pulled into the Albany airport.  There was no curbside check-in so I had to endure the line inside.  Anxiety level (sinfully) rising.  After checking my bag, I went up the escalator to security.  I still needed to go to the bathroom (I had a cup of tea earlier) and grab some lunch before hopping on the plane.  Predictably (?) the usually quiet Albany airport had a fairly lengthy line that was moving sslloowwllyy.  Finally 2 more TSA employees showed up to get it moving faster.  Yes!  The x-ray machine broke.  No!!  But I still got through with plenty of time to take care of my ‘errands’  before heading to the gate.

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Though my sermons for Advent seem to be more about the Resurrection than the Incarnation (though the former requires the latter), I’ve been doing some reading on the Incarnation.  Paul Miller’s Love Walked Among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus is a very good book.  I’m not done yet, but I’m getting there.  I’ll do a review when I am done, but I wanted to process some thoughts with all y’all.

“The person of Jesus is a plumb line to which we may align our lives.”

He is the standard and I fall woefully short, particularly when it comes to love.  This is one of those “ouch!” statements that fill the book.  In view of God’s kindness in presenting Jesus as a propitiation for my sin, it drives me to repentance instead of despair.

“Jesus has shown us how to love: Look, feel, and then help.”

Much of what we call love may not really be love.  That is because we do not “feel” the other’s pain.  We move from looking to helping- avoiding the emotional attachment necessary to love them well.  Jesus identified with people in their pain rather than just wave a magic wand.  Oh, miracle wand.

“Loving means losing control of our schedule, our money, and our time.  When we love we cease to be the master and become the servant.”

Love is not just inefficient, but it is costly.  And humbling.  Now wonder we avoid it whenever we can!

“Jesus lowers himself in order to care, while the disciples elevate themselves in order to judge.  (speaking of John 9:1-7) … Compasson affects us.  Maybe that’s why we judge so quickly- it keeps us from being infected by other people’s problems.  Passing judgment is just so efficient.”

They were more concerned with how this happened, why the guy was blind.  Jesus was more concerned with restoring sight.  Like the religious leaders who later interrogated the man, the disciples were spiritually blind.

“Love often doesn’t erase worries- it just shifts them to a different set of shoulders- our own.”

Yeah, that whole bearing one another’s burdens thing (Gal. 6).  It is bearing those burdens that is often instrumental in our own growth, though at the time it seems to impede our growth.  We think our time would be better spent elsewhere.

“He doesn’t just need an assist from God; he needs a complete overhaul, so he cries out, ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner.’  He has come to the earth-shattering conclusion that he, not his circumstances, caused  the mess in his life. … It is a huge relief to admit that you are a mess: that you turn inward and instinctively take care of your needs first. … Knowing you are a mess means you can stop pretending you have it all together.  Jesus says to people, ‘Relax- you’re much worse than you think!’  It is a little scary to move in this direction because you lose control of your image- of how others see you.  But did you ever control it anyway?  … Getting in touch with your inner tax collector makes room for God’s energy in your life.”

 This is part of the joy of interviewing for pastoral positions.  What they see is what they will get with me- I’m not trying to sell myself and create false impressions.  That doesn’t always work well … but it will with the people God wants me to work with.  At least that’s what I tell myself.

“Our helplessness is the door to the knowledge of God.  Without changing the heart, obsessing over rules is like spray-painting garbage.”

Nice imagery.  One last quote…

“Because he has the love of God in his heart, he doesn’t need other people to love him.”

This is what I aspire to- so I’m not pretending with anyone so I don’t lose their ‘love.’  Only as we depend solely on the love of God for us will be truly be able to love people as God intends rather than the shallow substitute we offer.  We call it sugar, but its not; butter, but its “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.”  Oh, what wretches are we.

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