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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Tripp’


In recent years there have been more than a trickle but less than a flood of books on the topic of idolatry. I’ve read books by Tim Keller and Elyse Fitzpatrick. There is a relatively new out by Brad Bigney called Gospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel with Hidden Idols (e-book too).

In some ways the subject of idols is under addressed (similar to the subject of the Trinity and Union with Christ). The Bible focuses on the topic a great deal. So I’m thankful for Bigney’s foray into this subject.

He is a pastor and biblical counselor. That shows through in his work. There are enough personal examples and stories (his and other people’s) to flesh it out for us, but not so many that you grow weary. I’m finding there is a fine balance to maintain in this matter.

He identifies the issue in chapter 1:

“To move toward idols is to move away from the gospel and the Savior that the gospel proclaims, so the problem is not peripheral- it is central. … When the gospel loses center stage, your spiritual immune system shuts down, leaving you susceptible to a myriad of spiritual illnesses.”

Because we are sinners, albeit justified sinners, we are still prone to wander. Or drift. We drift toward someone or something that is essentially a Christ-substitute. In other words, towards an idol.

We may see our struggles with sin, but fail to see the idols underneath that struggle. Think of it like addiction. Your addiction often leads to a host of other sins: deceit, sloth, theft, adultery or promiscuity and perhaps even murder. The addiction is driven by something however. If you don’t address that “something” you will just shift addictions. Many AA meetings are filled with people chain-smoking cigarettes and gulping coffee. When we don’t address the idol our sin patterns simply change instead of going away. We think we are more sanctified, but we really aren’t. We continue to be stuck spiritually.

Bigbey is honest. He’s not offering a cure-all. We will struggle with this problem the rest of our earthly lives precisely because, as Calvin noted, our hearts are factories of idols. He also notes that God’s goal is not simply for you to sin less, but to make you like Jesus. Sometimes the process of changing our hearts means struggling with visible sins. He wants a Christ-conformed you, not a haughty person who simply obeys externally. In Jesus’ day they were often called Pharisees.

“Everything outside of Christ is saltwater, and it only leaves you thirstier than you were before.”

How do we see the carnage of idols? Bigney points us to the chaos in our relationships. This is what James does in his letter to the church. We tend to think other people are the problem and that if they will just go away all will be well. While there is an element of truth, we struggle with idols too and contribute to many of our relational conflicts. The conflicts are meant to help us see the idols. They are the visible manifestation of the unseen idol.

Bigney borrows quite a bit from David Powlison and Paul Tripp throughout the book but particularly from this section. That is not a bad thing. It is hard to improve on their work.

Idols also shape our identity. They alter our view of ourselves and the world. They are like fun house mirrors but we think we are seeing clearly and accurately.

“Your idolatry is bigger than just clinging to a few counterfeits. It includes taking on an identity replacement that leads to a sense of losing yourself.”

Bigney continues the diagnostics with a chapter on following the trail, looking at time, money and affections. Idols need to be fed and they consume those three things at an unhealthy rate. He then returns to the topic of chaos. This time it isn’t simply relational chaos but chaos with respect to time or money.

He returns to the heart, again, to warn us against following our hearts. While we are regenerate, and this affects every aspect, we are not fully and perfectly transformed. Therefore you heart can still lie to you and want the wrong things.

“Everybody is following his own heart and making a big, fat mess. Listening to your heart will lead you from one relationship to the next, and one job to the next, and one disaster to the next, with no end in sight. Guide your heart, guard it, but don’t dare follow it.”

Sticking with the heart, he wants to help us see where our hearts are most vulnerable. “Your heart is the compass that points to where you run under pressure.” Each of us has weaknesses. Satan knows them so you better know yours too.

After ten chapters of diagnostics and warnings, he moves into how God works to reorient us. He focuses on the means of grace, as he should. Even here there are warnings. We are to seek Christ in them, not just the doing of them to check them off our list. Our life is found in Christ, not in the reading, worship services etc. They point us to Him and we can find Him there but we too easily settle just for the externals. Daily reading? Check. Prayer time? Check. Weekly worship? Check.

We can do that and still be controlled by idols, particularly the idol of control (the need to be in control of your circumstances). We also need to be in fellowship with Christ’s people. They help us spot our sins and idols if we are in meaningful & biblical community (not simply a country club). Together we seek to submit ourselves to God (as seen in James 4).

Bottom line: … this was a good book. At times I found it inconsistent. There were excellent chapters and some that didn’t have much red ink underlining things. Could be a me thing. The bulk of the book is spent on explaining why they are a problem and how to diagnose them in your life. He did loop around some of those things a few times. I wanted him to develop the means of restoration more thoroughly, particularly union with Christ. Unlike Ed Welch, for instance, he doesn’t talk about the role of the sacraments (though E Free churches and pastors typically don’t focus on the Lord’s Table). So this good book could be better.

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It took me over 2 years to read Sexual Sanity for Men: Re-Creating Your Mind in a Crazy Culture by David White. It should have taken me 14 weeks. Unfortunately while I was reading it my eyes were growing weaker and I never brought glasses to that room until just recently. Yes, that is pretty lame.

When you read the blurbs by men like Paul Tripp, Tim Keller and Ed Welch you are tempted to think “they have sexual issues??!!” You can understand Stephen Brown but those guys seem, like holy. The fact of the matter is that we all have sexual issues. It is just a matter of degree. Really. We are all sinners, and our depravity extends to every part of our being which includes our sexuality. So, I can safely say that EVERY man (with the sole exception of Jesus) has sexual issues, an element of insanity. (Don’t worry, there is a book for women too!)

As a result, there are times when I am tempted toward self-righteousness because I’ve never done that or struggled with this. But I have enough of my own struggles. Some of what he talks about will be outside of your frame of reference. But it will be part of other readers’ frame of reference. People struggle with some very hard things.

I was reading another book recently and the author gave the example of bucks. Usually you don’t see bucks. They tend to avoid people. But during rutting season (aka mating season) when they smell a doe they become single minded, seemingly ignoring people and cars in the road.

We can be like a buck during rutting season. When our testosterone levels are high we are prone to do stupid, and sinful things. We need help to regain our sanity.

This book is intended to help us in this endeavor. This means it is a painful book at times. We are confronted with the idols that drive our sexual insanity. Forsaking our idols, and our sin, can be quite painful.

In light of that, this book is intended to be read as part of a group. This is the sticky wicket for many men. We (rightfully?) have a great deal of shame around these issues. We think we are alone in struggling with these things. It is hard to open up. The fear of rejection is real at times.

If you are a pastor it is harder. It isn’t just about image management. Some people can’t differentiate between those who know their problems and wish they didn’t have those problems and those who sin gladly. So you aren’t sure who you can trust to walk with you instead of point the finger at you.

David White reminds us that our enemies are the flesh, the world and the devil. We have an internal bent toward sexual sin, the world encourages and facilitates sexual sin, and the devil will first plant sinful suggestions and then condemn you for them and any sin you may have committed.

At times I wish he’d remind us it wasn’t simply about obedience more often. Toward the end he talks about pride. This may sound strange, but God is more concerned with the condition of our hearts than our external obedience. He wants obedience from the heart. To humble us, we can have thorns in the flesh. We will not be 100% sexually sane until we are glorified, but we can grow.

This book does not want us to settle for the status quo, but to press on toward greater holiness. When our sin is about something so central to who we are, our sexuality, progress is slow and painful.

I would recommend this book (based on what I can remember over the course of two plus years). Yes, there are passages that struck me as a bit legalistic (the idea we must be in accountability groups even though this is not mandated in the Scriptures). The general tenor of the book, however, is to drive us to Jesus and the gospel. When we are honest about our sexual sin and struggles, our need and desire for Jesus should grow.

 

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It is that time of year to consider all the “best of lists.”

While it has been a great year for Boston sports (the Patriots nearly made the Super Bowl again to gain revenge on the 49ers, and the Bruins lost in the Stanley Cup Finals, but the Red Sox won their 3rd World Series championship of this young century) I’m thinking of the best books I’ve read this year. This is not necessarily books that came out in 2013, but what I read this year.

I’ll take them in the order in which I read them. What you will notice is that I’ve probably read less this year, and clearly blogged less. Having 4 kids will do that. As will being pastor of a church that has grown enough to have to expand it facilities to expand ministry capacity. I also read some enormous books, and that takes time.

Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul Tripp. I couldn’t identify with all the problems he talks about, and that is a good thing. Some issues are connected to how we “do” seminary and preparation for pastoral ministry. Others have to do with the manifestations of pride and sloth.

Resurrection and Redemption: A Study of Paul’s Soteriology by Richard Gaffin. This is not an easy book to read, but it is a significant book to read. As I noted in the review, for Gaffin soteriology is eschatology. This book explores the significance of the resurrection for our redemption which is a neglected area of thought.

Bloodlines: Race, Cross and Christian by John Piper. John Piper looks at his own history with questions of race and brings the gospel to bear on the question. I wish he would have co-authored it with a person of color to balance the perspective. But much of what he says is excellent

The Book of Revelation by G.K. Beale. This is a humongous commentary on Revelation but is well worth the time needed to read it. This is the one to read to understand its connection with the Old Testament. While I don’t agree with all he says (like I prefer an early date) this is excellent.

Freedom & Boundaries: A Pastoral Primer on the Role of Women in the Church by Kevin DeYoung. He is correct, it is a primer. He concisely addresses the most important texts and questions that arise. He presents a complementarian position but not an extreme one. I highly recommend it.

Mistakes Leaders Make by Dave Kraft. This little book was an excellent treatment of common mistakes church leaders make. Some I’ve made and I don’t want to make the others.

Sex & Money by Paul Tripp. He talks about the 2 things that occupy most of our time, energy and thoughts. He focuses on the tendency toward idolatry and the healing power of the gospel. Great stuff.

The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul. Typical Sproul. He explains sound theology so the average person can understand. Here he’s explaining the atonement, which every Christian should understand.

Delighting in the Trinity by Tim Chester. Books on the Trinity are pretty rare these days. Helpful, interesting and accessible books on the subject are even more rare. This is a book that is all three. It isn’t very big, but it is worth reading.

Gospel Centered Leadership by Steve Timmis. This is a very helpful little book that helps us understand how the gospel should shape our leadership in the church. I gave this one to my elders and we’ll study it soon.

Modest: Men & Women Clothed in the Gospel by Tim Challies & R.W. Glenn. I haven’t read any books on the subject before. What was good about this one is that it is about both men & women, and it is about how the gospel changes the equation. It is not about rules and a moralistic spirit.

Love into Light: The Gospel, the Homosexual and the Church by Peter Hubbard. This was an excellent and challenging book. He tries to balance truth and love (I think Paul said something like that) when we speak to homosexuals. We should not back off biblical teaching, which he explains by looking at key texts. We should not treat people as lepers either and he talks about how we can love them as we communicate the gospel to them as sinners, not just homosexuals.

The Doctrine of the Christian Life by John Frame. This is another enormous book. I have not quite finished the appendices since I’ve been focusing on other projects. This book examines ethical systems and then moves into understanding and applying the ten commandments before briefly discussing sanctification. This is an excellent book even if you agree with his particular end points.

The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry by Jared Wilson. This is another very good book on ministry. His focus is the importance of the doctrine of justification on who we are and how we go about ministry. Theology applied!

Crazy Busy: A Mercifully Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung. It is very short. I read this during a crazy busy time that mercifully should be coming to an end. I gave this to my elders and those who have gotten to it have appreciated its message. It is not just about techniques but the heart.

Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves. I’m not quite done with this book yet so it might end up on next year’s list too! As I preach thru the prologue of John’s Gospel this has been a great help. He really pushes the point of “God is love” as we think about the Trinity and Christianity. This is definitely a must read in that rare category of books on the Trinity. Like Chester’s of the same name this is relatively short.

Interesting-

  • 2 books by Paul Tripp and Kevin DeYoung
  • 2 books on the Trinity
  • 5 books on ministry
  • 2 books on salvation
  • 2 books of over 1,000 pages

Not one book by Tim Keller (I left off the Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness). Don’t worry, I’m sure there will be at least 1 next year.

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Recently there have been books released that deal with the heart of the pastor. They aren’t books about how to do ministry but how a minister should be. Jared Wilson’s The Pastor’s Justification is the second of these books I have read. Earlier I had read Paul Tripp’s Dangerous Calling.

Both books are very good but quite different from one another. They form a good “Good Cop, Bad Cop Routine” when read in tandem. Tripp’s book is a dangerous read. Perhaps I should say a hard read because he is ruthless. This doesn’t mean he’s legalistic or avoids the gospel. In addressing our sin he does bring us back to the gospel regularly. His concerns, reaped from talking the numerous pastors, center on the gaps in their preparation and a sense of having arrived that cripples men spiritually. He puts his finger on many common struggles for pastors.

“The primary problem in pastoral ministry, brother pastor, is not them. It’s you. You are your biggest problem.”

Jared’s book is kinder and gentler. This doesn’t mean he ignores sin because he doesn’t (see the above quote). You will feel the sting of conviction here as well. He also keeps bringing us back to the gospel regularly. The point of Jared’s book is one that I got from Tim Keller a few years ago: preach as a justified man. Of course it is about more than preaching.

[This book is not just for pastors though. Missionaries would likely benefit and see a great deal of overlap. It would be a helpful read for elders and ministry leaders as well. They will experience many of the same temptations and need to find the same freedom in Christ pastors need.]

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Our world is insane about many things. Sin will do that, produce a form of insanity. But when it comes to Sex & Money, our world is really crazy. Paul Tripp’s newest book is about these “pleasures that leave you empty and the grace that satisfies.”

He confesses that this was a very difficult book for him to write, precisely because of what it revealed about his own heart. Really, that is what most of this book is about: the heart. The manifestations of a heart gone astray he’s focused on are sex and money. This is not an easy book to read for the very same reasons- the waywardness of your own heart will be revealed.

“I am sad to think that when it comes to sex and money, we still buy into the legalism that says if we can organize people’s lives, give them the right set of rules, and attach them to efficient systems of accountability, we can deliver people from their sex-and-money insanity. … Few areas of the human struggle reveal more powerfully the sad sinfulness of sin than the sex-and-money evils that are done thousands of times every day.”

He begins the book with a series of scenarios that illustrate our insanity when it comes to sex and money.

  • A fifteen year-old self-appointed expert on oral sex.
  • An 8 year-old boy who is addicted to internet pornography.
  • A married man who masturbates daily.
  • Teachers having sex with under age students (nearly nightly on the news these days).
  • Unemployed high school students bombarded with offers for credit cards.
  • The average amount of consumer debt people carry creating an “anxiety-producing dance debt.”
  • Governments worldwide are deep in debt, near bankruptcy. And their citizens are rioting because they don’t get enough benefits.

And we could go on. You could go on. I know of pastors arrested in “massage parlors”. I know people arrested in the sting operations designed to get men trying to have sex with minors. And these are only what comes out in public. What of the sex and money sins that are still hidden?

“Both offer you an inner sense of well-being while having no capacity whatsoever to satisfy your heart.”

But there is a deeper theological orientation that Tripp wants us to consider: both creation and redemption. He made us sexual beings. He placed us in a world where sex and money issues are unavoidable and significant part of our ordinary experience. You should get the feeling that you are living in your own version of Deuteronomy 8: test, humbled and too often found wanting. Yet…

“The gospel graces us with everything we need to celebrate and participate in both areas of life in a way that honors God and fully enjoys the good things he’s given us to enjoy.”

Tripp moves into the dangerous dichotomy, expanding on the fact that God is Creator. One of the teachings that has done us much harm is that some of life is sacred and some is secular. The fact of creation shows, as Paul says in Colossians 1, that everything was made by God and for God. It is all intended to bring Him glory, and us good. it is all under His rule. A gospel-centered approach starts here because sex and money aren’t the real problem. We are.

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I’ve been doing a series of posts on the various Mistakes Leaders Make. They are me thinking out loud about the mistakes Dave Kraft addresses. I’ll finish with those posts, but I’ve finished with the book. Since I didn’t really review the chapters so much as process them, here is a review.

Dave has been in ministry for many decades. He previous book, Leaders Who Last, addressed the character traits that leaders need to have and cultivate. This book addresses the common mistakes that he’s seen leaders make. In the Afterward, he mentions 10 more he thought of which may comprise a follow up to this book.

“As leaders we all make mistakes- it’s part of being human. Some mistakes are innocent and are no big deal. Others are serious and are a big deal.”

Jesus is the only leader who never made a mistake. All others have made them. If you learn from them you will become a better leader. If you ignore them or don’t change you will stagnate and become a bad leader. This book wants to help leaders turn the corner and learn.

He works all of these mistakes through the leadership team of Covenant Community Church, a composite of different churches he has worked with in the past. One leader will be used to understand how that mistake can affect ministry and one’s personal life. Sometimes the person changes. Sometimes they don’t. So, it is realistic in that regard.

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Leaders made mistakes. Even pastors do. The good ones learn from their mistakes and the bad ones don’t. As a result, I’ve been reading Mistakes Leaders Make by Dave Kraft.

The first mistake Christian leaders can make is to allow ministry to replace Jesus. This is quite subtle. It is a question of identity and satisfaction. The identity and satisfaction of a Christian is intended to be Christ. But the pastor or Christian leader can, like other people, have them shift to the work we do. In this case that is ministry.

“Our identity in and intimacy with Jesus slowly dissipates, and over time, the ministry begins to occupy center stage in our affections, time, and focus.”

One of the contributors to this process can be ambition. Godly ambition is a good thing. But it can morph into selfish ambition and you don’t even realize.

Most pastors work long hours. They often feel the pressure for the church to grow. We have to invest ourselves intellectually, emotionally, financially and more. With that investment there can be that subtle shift into selfish ambition. We confuse our goals with God’s goals. Results become increasingly important. Our emotions begin to move up and down based on the numbers.

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In my sermon series on Colossians, Christ: Supreme & Sufficient, I am getting to the section on sanctification which includes some “vice lists”. What is a pastor to do?

First, Paul is addressing not only sins among the Colossians in general, but among the Colossian Christians. They had to put them to death, and put them off precisely because they were committing them. The sin lists are appropriate for most Christian communities regardless of their context: people struggle with sex, anger & hatred, their speech, covetousness and bias/prejudice/hatred based on ethnic background and culture.

The question I spent half the night (and many other hours spread over the past few months, and years) pondering is how much about my personal life (past and present) should I share in the context of preaching about these sins.

First, I don’t want to give the impression I have arrived, or never sinned. I know, some people live in a make believe land where their pastor never sinned big. If he sinned, it was forgetting to cover his mouth when he burped or some other peccadillo. I was not converted until I was 20. I have plenty of baggage from my family of origin, and plenty of sins (big and small) from which God has delivered and is delivering me. As Paul Tripp frequently notes, we are all “in the middle of our sanctification.” That means there are sins I used to commit and no longer do. That means there are sins I am still in the process of putting away. That means there are sins that God hasn’t even revealed to me yet because I’m nearly overwhelmed by the ones I know about.

Second, I want to be honest about my past and present struggles so people don’t think they are alone. I’m not going to talk about the sins of someone else in the congregation (“Of course we all realize Tom has a problem with …”). I can’ share stories of church leaders of the past. But they need to know that I need grace, AND find Christ sufficient. I know, it should be obvious to them I sin, but since they don’t live with me they may not see how sin operates in my life. Even then, there is the unseen world of my thoughts that is unknown to all but my closest friends. While they can’t, and shouldn’t, know it all they should know some of it.

But it isn’t that easy. There are a few counter-balances I must weigh in considering what I do and do not share about my past and present.

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Books are written for a variety of reasons- some good, some bad and some neutral. They can be written because of a great love for something. They can be written to sound a warning.

Paul Tripp wrote Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry to sound a warning. As he has traveled the world and visited with many churches and their staff, he has seen some disturbing trends.

Joshua Harris compared this book to heart surgery. The main point is the gospel, which challenges the sinful status quo in our lives. God is more concerned with our holiness (and His glory) than we are. So God’s grace is often disruptive. This, reflecting that, is a disruptive book.

The initial premise is that pastoral  ministry presents some unique challenges. These challenges are destructive to ministry and ministers. The only solution is the gospel rigorously understood and applied on a consistent basis.

“You are constantly preaching to yourself some kind of gospel.”

As Tripp lays out some of the most common traps and snares, you will not recognize yourself in them all (I hope). But you should see some tendencies toward some of them. You should be able to identify with some of them (I’m always preparing, for instance). And when he ruthlessly goes after you, so to speak, it will be difficult to continue. Unless you keep sight of the gospel and recognize the goal is sanctification, and not condemnation.

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As usual, I depart from the usual blogging practice of listing the best books of a given year. I focus on the best books I read in that given year. So here are the best books I read in 2012! Perhaps some will make great gifts for Christmas or upcoming birthdays. Click those links!

The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller. This is one of my favorite books on marriage. Keller just has a way of expressing himself, and bringing in contemporary issues in a way I haven’t thought about before. He does some good cultural exegesis in addition to the biblical exegesis needed to resolve that cultural quandary. There is enough here for singles to think about to make it worth while for them too!

Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp (my review). This moves beyond marriage into various relationships and how the gospel is at work in the mess that they are. That really is the point- the mess is part of how God changes us. So, it isn’t about mess-less relationships, but growing and loving in those relationships.

John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace by Jonathan Aitken. I find Newton to be a fascinating man. Aitken does a good job telling us his story. He shares his shame without trying to be scandalous or make him look bad. He shares his success without trying to glorify him. It comes across as a balanced, hopeful book about a man much used by God in his own generation.

Towards Spiritual Maturity by William Still. This small book is full of “spiritual dynamite”. It is a great little book on sanctification. It is obviously not meant to be exhaustive. But he hits on some much neglected realities in our sanctification.

Union With Christ by Robert Letham. This is an historical and scriptural study of our union with Christ. This is a much neglected subject that is of great importance. While it is more “intellectual” I think he does a good job of showing the benefits and implications of this doctrine that is foundational for Christian experience.

The Transforming Power of the Gospel by Jerry Bridges. What if you took the best ideas from most of his books and put them into one book? You would get this book! It is a great book about how the gospel changes us. Easy to read and full of great stuff.

Loving Well (even if you haven’t been) by William Smith. Yes, another book on relationships. This is for the person who really wasn’t loved well by their parents (which is most of us). You’ll still learn something if you were loved well. This is a great book about what it means to be loved and how God has loved us well in Jesus Christ. So, it isn’t about trying harder but being loved so you can love.

Fearless by Eric Blehm. This is the story of Adam Brown, a member of Seal Team Six who overcame great obstacles to even become a Seal. It is also about his faith in Christ and the destructive power of addiction (Christ is greater!). It is a very moving story, but not for the squeamish.

Jesus Loves the Little Children by Daniel Hyde.  This is a great little book arguing for infant baptism. He makes Meredith Kline’s arguments accessible to mere mortals. Well worth reading.

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. I re-read this book as I was preaching through the life of Daniel. Hers is an amazing story of a middle aged woman who became a resistance leader, was imprisoned by the Nazis and was set free to preach God’s love in Christ to generations hardened by the war.

Union with Christ by J. Todd Billings. Billings approaches the subject from a different angle than Letham did, but wrote a very helpful book as well. He is a Calvin scholar and focuses on Calvin’s work on the subject, but by no means limits himself to Calvin.

How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home by Derek Thomas. This short book is a treatment of Romans 8. It is a great treatment of Romans 8. I think it is must reading for all struggling with assurance or painful providence.

The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung. A great little book on sanctification. It is not exhaustive, but I think he pretty much hits the struggles most contemporary Christians have in this area. He draws from Scripture, the Reformed Confessions and various theologians. It is an edifying read.

The Masculine Mandate by Richard Philips. There are lots of lousy books on mahood. This isn’t one of them. He doesn’t just proof test a theology derived from movies, he established a solid theological framework from Genesis to help us understand our calling within the context of our covenant relationships with God and others.

Loving the Way Jesus Loves by Phil Ryken. This is like an updated version of Edwards’ classic Charity and Its Fruits. He follows the essential pattern, but in each chapter brings us to how Christ has loved us illustrating the particular aspect of love. Lots of other great stories to illustrate it as well.

Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ by John Piper. The last (?) in the series The Swans are Not Silent. He begins by handling a difficult passage in Colossians 1 and then illustrates his conclusion thru the lives of William Tyndale, John Paton and Adoniram Judson. That conclusion is that the suffering of the church and missionaries is how God males the gospel known and delightful among the nations. Our suffering is not simply caused by the gospel but meant to be the means of propagation.

Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller. This is in anticipation of its greatness. I’ve started to read it, and it holds plenty of promise. As usual, Keller is pulling a number of threads together to create a beautiful picture of God’s intentions for our vocations. I’m sure it will be very good.

A few thoughts:

My reading is often directed by my ministry and needs for personal growth.

This year was light on the classics. I’ll have to remember that for 2013.

While there are 4 biographies there, I should probably be reading more of them.

I filled in some gaps in my theology. This year I addressed our union with Christ. There are not many books on the subject out there. I’ve got a few more to read in 2013.

It is heavy on sanctification and love. I recognize my need to grow in grace and its manifestation in love. Books alone don’t mean I am growing. But they can be helpful in the process.

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Ever feel like you are missing something? It can happen when big names, wise men, hail a book. People you know find the book life-changing. Self-doubt begins to creep in, “Am I missing something important?” Perhaps I had erroneous expectations.

The book is Tullian Tchividijian’s Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

The big names include guys like Paul Tripp, Scotty Smith, Matt Chandler, Gene Edward Veith, Michael Horton, and Steve Brown.

Scotty Smith called it “a faithful and fresh exposition of Colossians.”

I began to read the book because I’m preaching on Colossians. I had heard his sermon on the subject at hand, and thought it was very good. So I thought this would be a great book.

“Progress in obedience happens only when our hearts realize the God’s love for us does not depend on our progress in obedience.”

My expectations were off. I expected an exposition of Colossians. What I read was a polemic against legalism. Don’t get me wrong, we need polemical material against legalism. And he said some really good things.

“The gospel is the only thing big enough to satisfy our deepest, eternal longings- both now and forever.”

Where I struggled was that was the vast majority of the book. It did not seem to move linearly. It was more like progressive parallelism. It looked at legalism from different perspectives. And there was no exposition of Colossians.

“Even as believers, we don’t adequately realize how Jesus is enough to meet our deepest needs, so we’re always pursuing an add-on approach- Jesus plus something.”

Colossians can be summed up by the formula that Tullian presents for us. The problem in the Colossian church was multifactorial, to steal a line from Ben Cherington. There seem to be a few different things added to Christ to find fullness. Tullian just hits legalism. So, it seems a bit reductionistic to me.

“The gospel frees us from trying to impress people, to prove ourselves to people, to make people think we’re something that we’re not.”

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The world is filled with books on marriage. Many of them are not worth reading. But there has been a bunch of excellent books on marriage that have been released in the last few years. Add The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Tim Keller (with his wife Kathy).

Tim is one of the best people for writing a book on marriage, from a biblical perspective, that non-Christians may actually read. He touches upon some of the more contemporary controversies here, clearly but without condemnation. I know some guys in our denomination love to hate on Keller as some great compromiser. I don’t see him that way. I just see him in a light similar to John Newton: clear as to what he believes but not using that to stick his finger in people’s eyes. He’d much rather win them to his position- that whole winsome thing. Not everyone is supposed to be Elijah, engaging in clear confrontations to expose the folly of false gods (though Keller did write a book on that).

Keller spends more time on cohabitation, bringing up studies which reveal how destructive it actually is to marriage.  He shows how the typical arguments used to justify the practice have no basis in facts. So he shows the foolishness of that particular sin in a variety of ways. Homosexual marriage is not tackled head on, but he consistently affirms the biblical view of man and woman. Contrary to what I’ve heard from some of the haters, there is a clear affirmation of complementarianism. But they distinguish the biblical doctrine from how some people practice it.  And that is good. We have to recognize that if will look different in different marriages and in different cultures.

The book is not perfect. There are, I think, so factual errors. Tim writes that Paul was never married. We don’t know that. He, as a Pharisee, was probably married at some point. But at the time of his work as an Apostle, he was single- probably widowed. But that is a small thing.

My only other complaint was the length of the chapters. They were quite long, about 25 pages each on average. I like to finish a chapter in a sitting, and due to my schedule that was a little more difficult with this book.

The book derived from sermons on marriage the Tim preached in 1991. The bulk of the book is drawn from Ephesians 5, but the Kellers draw on a number of resources to understand and apply the biblical teaching on marriage. They cover issues of love (romantic love, mature love and the acceptance of one another’s faults), how to look for a spouse and what to look for in one, gender differences and roles in marriage, sex and more. They walk thru some of the landmines, the idols of both traditional and progressive culture.

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Since my current sermon series from Genesis includes the idea of relationships, I decided it would be a good time to read Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp. Of course, when you take a few months to read a book it is not as fresh in your mind when you come to review it.

The book is not long (under 200 pages), but it does cover quite a bit of territory. The chapters include ones on sin, agendas, worship, obstacles, mercy, time and money and more. They cover that ground, as usual, with lots of Scripture and many examples compiled from years of experience in ministry as well as their personal lives. Thankfully, it does have a Scripture Index (one of my pet peeves is to not have one).

The first chapter talks about their relationship with one another. There have been times when they haven’t got along well. They have struggled through many of these things.  So, they speak from personal experience, not as merely teaching theory.

They begin with the reasons why to invest in relationships. The most important, in my opinion, is that since we are made in God’s image we are made to be in relationship. God Himself has eternally existed in relationship with Himself. The Trinity is a community of love. He made us to bring us into that loving community. But since we rejected the spring of living water, we make our relationships into broken cisterns from which we expect to receive life. Sin, including idolatry, have messed things up.

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Uneven.

If I were given one word to describe Disciple: Getting Your Identity From Jesus by Bill Clem, that is the word I would use. It is published as part of the RE:Lit line and has a forward by Mark Driscoll. It comes with blubs by people like Paul Tripp. In other words, it intrigued me.

Bill is trying to create a paradigm shift in how we think about discipleship. Someone in the church I pastor has been asking me questions about discipleship recently. My answers were in many ways close to what Bill is shooting for. But this runs against the grain of a church shaped by life in America which is filled with standardized tests and a concept of time consumed by efficiency. Programs aren’t discipleship. They can be a means of discipleship, but aren’t necessarily discipleship. Communicating theological knowledge and understanding isn’t either (though people need to grow in their biblical and theological knowledge to grow as disciples).

Bill Clem’s premise is that disciples primarily image God to the watching world (and unseen world). We were created in God’s image. As image bearers, Adam and Eve were to reflect God’s glory, and represent Him to the rest of creation. In their sin, the image was marred.  In redemption, Christ’s work in us (sanctification) is to restore that image in us. We reveal God’s character and represent Him more clearly over time. This premise is a giant step in the right direction. It is a necessary corrective to our thinking about discipleship.

Back to my one word assessment of the book. There are some very good chapters in this book. They are filled with red ink from my pen. And there are some chapters that have little additional ink, or the red ink is expressing my confusion. There were times when I was really tracking with Bill Clem, and there were times when I was under-whelmed or just plain frustrated.

“To disciple people is not to make them like everybody else; it is to shape them into the image of Jesus.”

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Some time back I did a rather brief review of Paul Tripp’s new book on marriage, What Did You Expect?”  As I mentioned there, I think this is one of the best books on marriage.  Tripp goes beneath the surface of marriage (and this is applicable to ANY relationship).

In the DVD, taken from a conference, is similar but not identical to the book.  In the DVD, he focuses on the big picture of marriage.  And that heart of a marriage is determined by worship.  What you worship will determine the quality of your marriage, and other relationships.  The more you worship someone or something instead of God, you will be in conflict because you don’t have the same desires and priorities.

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In previous posts I covered our unrealistic expectations, and what the Enemy is up to in our addictions.  In this final thought on addiction, I want to consider what God is up to in our addictions (remember that I am looking at this from the perspective of a Christian who is part of the Reformed heritage).

Before I lay out the nugget, there has to be some theology.  When I first heard of this, R.C. Sproul called it the doctrine of concurrence.  It is simply the view that 2 (or more) persons can will the same thing for different reasons.  It is clearly illustrated in 3 places in Scripture (there are other, less important examples as well).

The first is in Genesis 50.  Jacob has died, and Joseph’s brothers fear retribution on the part of Joseph.  They claim their father demanded that Joseph forgive them.

20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

God also willed Joseph’s sale into slavery.  His brothers had evil intentions, and are held accountable for those intentions.  God had good intentions (including the humbling of Joseph).  They willed the same thing, but for very different reasons.

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In June I’ll heading to a screening for Courageous.  It was produced by the makers of Facing the Giants and Fireproof.  I’d seen the former, but hadn’t the latter.  So, CavWife and I took a break between seasons of House to get it from Netflix.  After sitting around the house for a week since we had an unusually hectic schedule, we enjoyed an unusually quiet Sunday afternoon to watch it together.

Stepping up the Quality with Kirk

Overall, the Kendricks are getting better at making movies.  Alex only had a cameo as a pastor this time around instead of being the star.  That bill was filled by Kirk Cameron.  Don’t think this was a big budget affair however.  In the credits you can see that much of the catering was donated.  Watching the movie you’ll also be surprised to find that a firehouse of 5 guys is able to man 2 large trucks.  They do a surprisingly good job with the amount of money they have at their disposal.  While still following a formula, it was not as simplistic as Facing the Giants.  Nothing was resolved quite so easily and it didn’t create the false impression that if you come to Jesus everything works out just dandy in short order.

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Paul Tripps’ What Did You Expect? hits on the reality of our defensiveness and self-righteousness.  He expressed it in a way that I find is very helpful.  He talks about our inner lawyer that rises to our defense.

“All of us carry inside ourselves an inner lawyer who is easily activated and quickly rises to our defense.”

Don’t you notice this when you become engaged in a disagreement.  That desire to defend and/or to accuse quickly comes to the surface.  We start to parse words, shift the discussion to their failings and point the finger (even give the finger).

This was so clear to me one day in the minivan.  CavWife and I have a long-standing philosophical disagreement on whether or not the emergency brake is necessary whenever you are parked on a hill.  Her source of authority on this matter is her father.  My source of authority is Car Talk (Tom was a professor of mine at Boston University).

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This weekend our Community Group wrapped up our study of Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul Tripp.  In that final chapter Tripp talked about self-identity and accountability.  I thought them an odd choice.

That was until we met together, I showed a few clips from Cool Runnings to illustrate the points and it all began to click as we talked together.

“We always live out some kind of identity, and the identities we assign ourselves powerfully influence our responses to life.”

Often our sins or our afflictions define us.  “My name is Fred, and I’m an alcoholic.”  You could substitute sex addict, bulimic or any number of sins.  We begin to identify ourselves with the patterns of sin in our lives.

We can also identify ourselves with our afflictions.  For some time I assigned myself “Failure”.  The church had “failed” and many seemed all too quick to assign that to me.  I began to own it.  Sometimes it starts with others assigning us the identity, but eventually we own it for ourselves.  I could be “loser”, “wimp”, “handicapped”, “divorced”, “single parent” or any host of self-identities.

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Lots of people have their best of 2010 lists.  Why should I be any different?

But I will do it a bit differently.  Instead of books released in 2010, I will recommend some of the books I read in 2010.  Unlike some guys, I am not always on top of the new releases.  Additionally, sometimes this can mean we forget great books from the past.  I will include 2 books that I re-read this year as well.  Great books hold up over time, even if you suffer from ADD.  Lastly there will be a few books I read this year (or at least tried to) that I do not recommend.

Great Books I Read in 2010

  1. Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes You Just by Tim Keller.  I just finished this book, so it is fresher in my mind.  In typical Keller fashion he challenges conservative Christians, “progressive” Christians and unbelievers to think more biblically.  The timing for this book was great as the conservative-liberal divide on the issues of social justice seem far more pronounced and polarizing.  He brings a wealth of information into the discussion, but is far from wishy-washy.  Keller has biblical boundaries for this discussion.  Some just want to talk.  I believe Keller does a great job of keeping the gospel central to this discussion.  Even better, it was released in 2010!
  2. The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne.  This was a very good book that encourages pastors and elders to have a different understanding of ministry.  Too often our view of ministry limits our ministry in an unhealthy way.  I’m struggling with how to implement some of this in an existing church.  Not the fault of the book.  On second thought, perhaps that would have made a great additional chapter.
  3. The Marrow of Modern Divinity by E.F. (most likely Edward Fisher) with notes by Thomas Boston.  Yes, this is a few centuries old.  But it is an important book that I’d been meaning to read for a few years.  I’d been providentially hindered from reading it.  It is written in the style of a dialogue between 4 different characters.  E.F. (and Boston in his notes) brings in the work of a number of even older theologians, and their own contemporaries.  It deals with the Christian’s relationship with the law both before and after conversion.
  4. The Transforming Community: The Practice of the Gospel in Church Discipline by Mark Lauterbach.  This book is a few years old, but I think it is an important book for pastors and elders.  Church Discipline is a much neglected subject and Lauterbach does a great job of keeping the gospel central to how a church practices discipline.
  5. War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles by Paul Tripp.  Tripp applies a sound biblical, gospel-centered theology to communication. It goes far beyond “how to”, to unearthing our sin and idolatry.  Unlike some of the other books, this is appropriate, and aimed at, all of us who confess Christ.  Some great biblical wisdom that often brought me to repentance.
  6. Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and and Transforms Parenting by William Farley.  There is no dearth of parenting books.  This is one of the best precisely because he focuses on how the gospel is applied in parenting.  If you’re a parent, it might be wise to pick this up.  If you know a parent, give it as a gift (like I did).  I think you might catch the common thread thus far: the gospel.
  7. By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me by Sinclair Ferguson.  Continuing that thread is one of my favorite authors.  This is yet another great mind-transforming, heart-warming book.  It has both heat and light.  I cannot recommend it enough.  Buy this book!
  8. Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches by Russel Moore.  Again, the gospel as revealed in adoption this time.  Moore writes, as the subtitle makes clear, not just for families but for the church family.  It is a great book, though at times a tad clumsy as it shifts back and forth between his family’s story of adoption and the biblical theology of adoption.
  9. The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens and the Bible by James Hoffmeier.  There have been any number of attempts to justify various immigration positions from the Scriptures.  Hoffmeier uses this expertise in the OT and archeology to dig into the appropriate texts rather than just read his position into them as is common practice.  It is not a very long book, but is a very helpful book that is worth reading by anyone who cares what the Bible may have to say about this important subject in our day.

Great Books I Re-read in 2010

  1. Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex and Power and the Only Hope that Matters by Tim Keller.  I didn’t read it all that long ago, but a great book holds up.  This is one of those books that holds up.  Another timely book by Keller.  As a great preacher, he is able to shape the books so they are bringing biblical truth to current issues.  But these are not “fad” books, but topics he’s been preaching about for years.
  2. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change by Paul Tripp.  I read this again for community group after reading it during the “lost years” of transition.  It is a great book for understanding personal ministry to one another.  It helps me as a pastor, and it should be helpful for ordinary church goers.  He brings a good biblical theology to the task.  Some material is also found in War of Words, but I found that to reinforce the message since I was reading them at the same time.

Books I’m Not Excited to Have Read (or at least tried)

  1. Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and Not Yet by Jason Stellman.  I had high hopes for this book.  I struggled with how he applied his 2 kingdom theology.  It sounded too much like let the world go to hell in a handbasket except for those who embrace the gospel.  The church and Christians appear to have no real function in society aside from evangelism.
  2. Pray Big: The Power of Pinpoint Prayers by Will Davis Jr.  I did not make it very far in this book.  It was basically an attempt to proof text his views instead of developing a solid, applicable theology of prayer.  This is why I usually don’t read broadly evangelical books.

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