Sleeping Time & Tempting Time

sleepingAt the beginning of Ephesians 6:14, Paul says “Stand therefore.”

Stand. What does that mean? What does it mean for the Christian to stand? William Gurnall offers several thoughts: (1) To stand is opposed to a cowardly flight from the enemy. So, to stand means to fight, not run away; (2) To stand means for every one to stand in his rank and in his proper station. That is, to stand is to be done in order and in place, not in disorder and chaos. And (3) To stand is opposed to sleep and sloth.

In the context of this 3rd aspect to the Christian’s standing, Gurnall says the following concerning Satan’s temptation during the saint’s slumber…

“Watchfulness is more needful for the Christian soldier than any other, because other soldiers fight with men that need sleep as well as themselves; but the Christian’s grand enemy, Satan, is ever awake and walking his rounds, seeking whom he may surprise. And if Satan be always awake, it is dangerous for the Christian at any time to be spiritually asleep, that is secure and careless … The saint’s sleeping time is Satan’s tempting time.”

— William Gurnall, The Christian In Complete Armour, 286

How Can The Saint Stand Against Sin?

christian in complete armourWhat is the one thing that, if the Christian would cause his mind to dwell on, would keep him from giving into sinful temptations? Surely there is not one thing that is the right answer. You could offer quite a few different answers — the love of Christ, the goodness & glory of God, etc. William Gurnall suggests keeping our eyes and mind set on the future, glorious, heavenly inheritance that we, as Christians, will receive.

“It is almost impossible to sin with lively thoughts and hopes of that glory. It is when the thoughts of heaven are long out of the Christian’s sight, and he knows not what is become of his hopes to that glorious place, that he begins to set up some idol — as Israel the calf in the absence of Moses — which he may dance before. But let heaven come in sight, and the Christian’s heart will be well warmed with the thoughts of it, and you may as soon persuade a king to throw his royal diadem into a sink, and wallow with his robes in a kennel, as a saint to sin with the expectation of heaven’s glory.”

— William Gurnall, The Christian In Complete Armour, 273

The One O’Clock Miracle

the one o'clock miracleAs I’m getting closer and closer to becoming a father (now under 6 weeks away), I am getting more and more eager to be able to read good, Christ-centered books to my son. And one group of children’s books that I will definitely be keeping on his shelf to read to him are those by Alison Mitchell & Catalina Echeverri, published by the Good Book Company. I’ve previously had the opportunity to review The Christmas Promise and Alby’s Amazing BookAnd now, they have a new book called The One O’Clock Miracle, which is just as well written and illustrated as the previous two.

The One O’Clock Miracle looks at the story of Jesus healing the royal official’s son, as told in John 4:46-54. The book is a short one, but one that beautifully illustrates both the power of Jesus being able to simply speak and His will be done, as well as our call to have faith in this miraculous power of Jesus — that He will & can do what He says He will do. I love the subtitle of the book, which perfectly encapsulates the main point that the book aims at emphasizing — True Story About Trusting the Words of Jesus.

There’s not much more to say about the book other than that you should get it. If you have children, or grandchildren, or friends with children — whatever the case — I would encourage you to get them a copy of this book. It is true to the biblical story, Christ-centered, engaging for children, and beautifully illustrated. It would certainly make a great gift for any parents of small children.

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Cross Focused Reviews and The Good Book Company for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Marriage Is More Than Sex

When sinners say I do DVDWhat is the essence of marriage? What should a Christian marriage look like, and how should it differ from a worldly, secular marriage? What are the purposes of marriage? And how do two Christians enter into this covenant relationship with their eyes wide open to the many struggles and conflicts that will arise?

These are all very important questions, and very likely questions that you will look at and discuss with the pastor who will be marrying you and going through pre-marital counseling with you. One resource that has been very popular, and quite helpful, is a book by Dave Harvey called When Sinners Say “I Do”. In this book, Harvey does a great job at answering all of these questions in the context of the Gospel, and identifying how the Gospel should impact and transform the Christian’s view of the marriage relationship.

Well here’s some great news … there’s now a new DVD study to go along with this excellent book:

In this DVD study, Dave Harvey draws on over 30 years of marriage, and almost 30 years of pastoral experience, in 8 sessions averaging around 20-minutes each. The content of the sessions are as follows:

  1. Sin – Part 1
  2. Sin – Part 2
  3. Design
  4. Contentment
  5. Mercy – Part 1
  6. Mercy – Part 2
  7. Sex
  8. Stubborn Grace

If you are a pastor or ministry leader of any kind, I would greatly encourage you to get a copy of this DVD study. It would be a great resource for you to have, as a church, for those couples coming for premarital counseling. Even if you are not a ministry leader, this DVD study would be great for any married couple wanting to refocus their marriage around Gospel truths, or any single person wanting to prepare themselves for what marriage is supposed to look like when (or if) they come to that.

Also, Shepherd’s Press is partnering with Vimeo On-Demand to make it possible for you to rent these videos for a 3-month period if you would rather go that route instead of purchasing the DVD. You can find out more about that by clicking here.

To whet your appetite a little bit, below are a couple of video clips from the study. I hope that you’ll watch them and then go buy a copy for yourself.

Marriage Is More Than Sex

Forgiving When It’s Hard

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Cross Focused Reviews and Shepherd’s Press for providing me with a review copy of this DVD in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Honest Evangelism

honest evangelismUnfortunately, evangelism is one of those topics that few of us like to talk about, let alone read a book on. Evangelism and Prayer. These are oftentimes the two topics that very few Christians will pick up a book and read about. Why? Because they are the two aspects of the Christian life that most of us feel the most conviction concerning our lack of discipline, or feel most incompetent about. However, we all desperately need a help and a stirring reminder. And that is just what Rico Tice’s new book on evangelism does for its readers. The title of this book is: Honest Evangelism: How To Talk about Jesus Even When It’s Tough.

Let me just tell you from the outset: I really enjoyed this book. Really. So much so that it was hard for me to put down. I read the whole book in 2 sittings. I appreciated the honesty with which the author approached the subject. I was challenged by the reminders that the author gave from Scripture. And I was impressed by the foundational truths upon which the author grounded our call to evangelism.

So with that said, how is the book laid out? What’s the point of the book? The book consists of 8 chapters, with the first 4 chapters focusing on some foundational truths that we need to know about evangelism, and the last 4 chapters addressing the practical “how-to” aspects of actually doing evangelism.

The Foundation

Chapter 1 starts out discussing the two halves of the story regarding evangelism. What are these two halves? (1) Evangelism is hard, and you can/will get hurt, and (2) There is a hunger in people to understand their purpose and the ultimate reality of things. The author summarizes chapter one this way:

“We must be honest about the hostility, or we’ll have wrong expectations and give up on evangelism. But we must also be excited about the hunger, or we’ll have no expectations at all, and never start evangelism” (23).

After discussing the 2 halves of hurt and hunger in chapter 1, the second chapter asks: “Is Evangelism worth it?” Unless we want to do it, none of the practical “how-to” chapters will really matter very much. So what should our motivation be, as Christians, to evangelize? The author gives 3 motivations:

  1. The glory of Jesus
  2. The guarantee of the new creation
  3. The grim reality of death and hell

With those 3 great motivators for evangelizing, there’s still a problem — many people still don’t evangelize. Why? What would be a reason that someone would still choose not to evangelize, even knowing these 3 motivations given in Scripture? That is what chapter 3 is about. And in a word, the answer is this: idolatry. There is something that you love more than obeying Christ and sharing Him with others. What is that thing? Well, it varies from person to person. So the author gives a few helpful questions that the reader can use to help identify the idol that is keeping him from evangelizing.

And finally, the last foundational truth comes in chapter 4 — Three truths that we must remember if we are going to be the type of people that pray for, look for, and take advantage of opportunities to share about Christ with others.

  1. God’s Sovereignty
  2. God’s Grace
  3. God’s Power

We talk about Christ: God opens blind eyes. It is my job, and your job, to tell someone about Jesus — who he is, why he came and what it means. It is not our job to make someone respond. It’s God who opens blind eyes. You communicate the message — and then you pray that he would do the miracle.

This is so liberating. What is successful witnessing? It’s not someone becoming a Christian — it’s someone hearing about Christ. It’s not you winning the argument, having all the answers, or giving an eloquent speech — it’s you preaching Christ” (55).

The Practical

Now we get to the “how-to.” Now that we are convinced that we, as Christians, are to evangelize, how do we do it? That’s what the final 4 chapters are about. Rico Tice gives some helpful advice here in these chapters, including 2 sets of three words in chapter 5 that we should remember when trying to strike up conversations with others, or when trying to turn conversations to talking about Christ

Set 1: Identity. Mission. Call.

This is the Gospel.

  • Identity Who Jesus is.
  • Mission Why Jesus came.
  • Call What Jesus wants from us.

Set 2: Understanding. Agreement. Impact.

This is their response.

  • Understanding — Do they get it? Do they understand it?
  • Agreement — Do they agree with it? Do they not only understand it, but agree that it is true?
  • Impact — What are they doing about it? How is it affecting and impacting their life?

“Evangelism is not about saying everything, or saying it eloquently. But it is about saying enough” (70).

In chapter 6, the author gives some good advice on being yourself in evangelism, and looks to a variety of different personalities that were evangelists in the Bible, including Peter and the woman at the well. Then in chapter 7, he gives some helpful advice on getting started with evangelizing, and what that looks like in the culture that we find ourselves in right now.

“You don’t need to be good at witnessing; you simply need to be faithful in doing it” (93).

And finally, he ends in chapter 8 with two things that we all need to do: Pray & Go. Without prayer, our going will be powerless. But without going, our prayers for the spread of the Gospel will not be answered.

Conclusion

This book was quite challenging to me, as well as incredibly helpful. Far too many books on evangelism are strong in one area, but weak in another. Strong in practical “how-to’s,” but weak in foundational truths. Strong in theological convictions, but weak in practical advice to get started. Not this book. This book has a wonderful balance between solid, foundational theological truths that ground our call to evangelize, and practical, helpful “how-to’s” that the reader can put into place and begin being more obedient and more fruitful in his evangelism. I greatly appreciated this book, and think that you would benefit from grabbing a copy for yourself.

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Cross Focused Reviews and The Good Book Company for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Ordinary

ordinaryAs a culture, we are infatuated with what is radical, epic, crazy, extreme, and cutting-edge. And the same is true in our church culture. Ordinary? Who wants that? We want to be radical for Christ. We are always looking for the next big thing. And it is tearing apart the very fabric of the Church of Christ.

“CNN will not be showing up at a church that is simply trusting God to do extraordinary things through his ordinary means of grace delivered by ordinary servants. But God will. Week after week” (149).

Addressing this very problem in Evangelical Christianity today, Michael Horton has written an incredibly helpful book called Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World. The main point of Horton’s book that he is trying to get across to the reader is this:

“We must turn from the frantic search for ‘something more’ to ‘something more sustainable.’ We need to stop adding something more of ourselves to the gospel. We need to be content with the gospel as God’s power for salvation. We also need to be content with his ordinary means of grace that, over time, yield a harvest of plenty for everyone to enjoy” (126).

The Structure

The book itself is split into two parts…

Part 1, titled “Radical and Restless,” focuses on where we as a culture, and a church-culture, have come in our endless pursuit for the new, the radical, the cutting-edge. Horton also addresses some misconceptions that may arise from his critique of this radical pursuit, such as the fact that ordinary does not mean mediocre. Rather, he says that “there are no shortcuts to excellence in any area of life, and it is commitment to the ordinary that makes the difference.

“We want big results — sooner rather than later. And we’ve forgotten that God showers his extraordinary gifts through ordinary means of grace, loves us through ordinary fellow image bearers, and sends us out into the world to love and serve others in ordinary callings” (14).

Part 2, titled “Ordinary and Content,” moves form the problem to the solution. And in a word, the solution to this radical, restless spirit is contentment. Contentment in what? Most significantly, contentment in the Gospel. Contentment that what Christ has done is enough, and contentment in the Word of God to be the ordinary means by which God does the extraordinary in the lives of His people. Though the following quote is quite lengthy, I think it is great and worth sharing to give you a taste of Horton’s discussion on contentment

“To be content with Christ’s kingdom is to be satisfied also with his ordinary means of grace. This is a big one. We have trouble believing that weak things like a fellow sinner speaking in Christ’s name, both judgment and forgiveness, could actually expand Christ’s kingdom throughout the earth. Sure, there are sermons. We need good teachers. But surely a growing church needs something more impressive that will catch people’s attention than the regular proclamation of and instruction in God’s Word. After all, it’s not by preaching the gospel but by living it that we draw people to Christ. Surely, doing more in our community will make a larger impact than weekly prayers, especially for the mundane concerns that are common to everyone. At the very least, we need to have sermons that focus on topics that our neighbors might find more helpful or interesting. And yet, our King tells us that ‘faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ’ (Rom 10:17). Through the lips of a fellow sinner, Christ judges, justifies, and renews us here and now. The verdict of the final judgment is actually rendered in the present through this speech” (146-147).

Conclusion

This book was refreshing. In a variety of ways through his writing and speaking, Horton oftentimes goes against the grain of Evangelicalism at large, looks at things a different way, and does a great job of exposing our cultural influences and calling us back to a biblical paradigm. This book is no different. Horton offers the reader a refreshing and biblical paradigm by which to look at life, one that is freeing and liberating. I am confident that you will profit from reading this book, and it will cause you to step back and look at things in your life and your church a little bit differently. And that’s a good thing.

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Zondervan Publishers for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts

RTP_2405_DUSTJACKET_the_poetic_wonder_of_isaac_watts_july31a.indIsaac Watts, the 17th century hymn-writer, is known by many as “the Father of English Hymnody.” With over 750 hymns written in his lifetime, including classics such as “Joy to the World” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” this title is certainly warranted. However, many people today know little about Watts — myself included. Who was this man that wrote so many of the hymns that we so dearly cherish in our churches and worship services week in and week out?

If you are like me and know very little about Isaac Watts other than his name and perhaps one or two of the hymns that he wrote, I want to commend to you an incredibly helpful little book by Douglas Bond: The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts. The book comes as the 6th in the series, “A Long Line of Godly Men,” published by Reformation Trust, every one of which are remarkably helpful, concise, and engaging.

A Brief Biography

The book starts, as does every book in this series, with a brief biographical sketch of Watts’ life and legacy. These books are not intended to be full-fledged biographies, with 200-300 pages discussing every intricate detail of Watts’ life. Rather, the book looks at Watts’ life from a variety of contexts and examines various spheres of his life and ministry. However, to attempt to do so without at least a cursory understanding of Watts’ life and upbringing would not serve the reader well. Therefore, the first 26 pages are devoted to this biographical sketch, which I must say was quite intriguing and helpful to me. The reader learns about Watts’ parents and the strict academic environment in which he was raised, included the central role that poetry poetry played in Watts’ education and early life.

An Incredible Story

One of the many incredibly interesting and intriguing stories that you get to read is about Watts’ unique ability to rhyme in his head without writing anything down on paper. His parents noticed this gift early on and encouraged it — for a while. As any parent can imagine, this constant rhyming about anything and everything became quite annoying. It even came to the point where his father forbade him to rhyme at all.

Though he was forbidden to rhyme aloud constantly at home, he did not stop writing down handwritten poems. One day, Watts’ mother found some of these handwritten poems and asked whether or not they were Isaac’s. Though he told her that they were his, they were so good that she doubted that he was telling the truth. Watts was 7 years old at this point, and these poems seemed to be a bit too sophisticated for a 7-year-old to produce. So his mother had an idea — she decided that if they were, indeed, Isaac’s, then he could produce something of similar depth on the spot. So she had him sit down at the kitchen table and write her a poem on the spot, in front of her. And so he did.

I am a vile and polluted lump of earth;

So I’ve continued since my birth;

Although Jehovah grace does daily give me,

As sure this monster Satan will deceive me.

Come, therefore, Lord, from Satan’s claws relieve me.

Wash me in Thy blood, O Christ,

And grace divine impart.

Then search and try the corners of my heart,

That I in all things may be fit to do

Service to Thee, and sing Thy praises too.

Remember, this was written by a 7-year-old, on the spot. Notice not only the incredible depth of his Gospel understanding, but also that he did not only rhyme the poem … he also decided that he would make it an acrostic that speed his name: “Isaac Watts.” Incredible!

The Outline

The rest of the book includes 8 chapters, each examining a particular area of Watts’ life and ministry.

  • Watts as Educator
  • Watts’ Sermon Hymns
  • Watts as Lyric Poet
  • Watts as Hymn Writer
  • Watts as Poet Theologian
  • Watts as Children’s Poet
  • Watts as Psalm Interpreter
  • Watts for Our Time

This was a very helpful, insightful, and interesting book for me. I came into it thinking that I would like it okay, but that really the only people this book would seriously appeal to would be musicians or those really interested in poetry. However, I was quickly proved wrong. Though I am neither of those things — musically or poetically inclined — I found myself greatly intrigued by Watts’ unique, God-given ability to write these hymns with such musical excellence and theological depth. The author puts this truth well when he says:

“As the church casts about, trying to find out how we should do church, how we should worship, and particularly how we should sing in our worship, Watts can provide us with a theological and poetic anchor. ‘The Father of English Hymnody’ gives us the perfect combination that everyone in the church ought to be striving to reach: passion and feeling grounded on solid theological foundations” (26).

Conclusion

To close, let me allow the author, Douglas Bond, to tell you why we, as 21st century Christians, need to recover our understanding of who Watts was and why he matters today.

“We need Watts for many reasons. We need his poetry to aid us in recovering a sanctified understanding and imagination. We need him to help reform worship and singing in our churches today. And all of us who have ever felt marginalized for our frailty, our unattractiveness, our lack of formal learning in elite schools, or for any other limitation — real or perceived — need Watts. All people will find a wealth of enrichment and encouragement by learning more of the poetic wonder of Isaac Watts (xxviii).

Amen. I would absolutely commend this book to you, as well as the rest of the books in this series, “A Long Line of Godly Men.”

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Reformation Trust Publishers for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.