Book Review – “Respectable Sins” by Jerry Bridges

There is no question that Christians must strive to be holy.  Scripture tells us, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14, ESV)  It also informs us that “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:6, ESV)  Jerry Bridges did a great job of reminding us of this in his book The Pursuit of Holiness.  Bridges takes it deeper and further in his book Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate.

When we, as Christians, think about sin, our minds seem to naturally go to the “big” sins, such as theft, adultery, murder, and so on.  Bridges boldly confronts the “smaller” sins that we seem to overlook or at least tolerate. After a few chapters delving into the importance of dealing with sin in general and the reminder that it must be driven by God’s grace through the power of the Holy Spirit (and not through determined effort alone), he begins in the remaining chapters to challenge us to purify our lives by concentrating on the sins that impact us the most in our daily lives.  This makes for some uncomfortable, but very enlightening and needful, reading.  The sins Bridges focuses on are ungodliness, anxiety and frustration, discontentment, unthankfulness, pride, selfishness, lack of self control, impatience and irritability, anger, judgmentalism, envy, jealousy, sins of the tongue (gossip, slander, critical speech), and worldliness.  Which of us doesn’t need the help provided on several of these issues?

I am always challenged as I read books by Bridges.  He is one of the best authors at bridging the gap between God’s grace and our effort.  While he always avoids the traps of legalism and striving according to our own fleshly strength, he also avoids the errors of free grace and a “let go and let God” mentality.  He really does a great job at reminding us to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13, ESV)

I would strongly encourage all Christians to read this book.  It is a great reminder that we still need the gospel and the grace of God in our lives every day as we continue to grow more into the character of Christ, dealing with the “respectable sins” in our lives.

God with us!

One of the most amazing aspects of Christianity is the fact of the incarnation.  That the God who creating everything would Himself become human, all the while remaining full divine, should never cease to amaze us.  When Jesus became a man, we learn that “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15, ESV) and “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19, ESV).  When we look at Jesus, we are seeing God.  Jesus was and is the clearest revelation of who God really is.

I was thinking today about living the “with God life,” to borrow a phrase from Richard Foster and others, and I began thinking about a verse from Matthew 1.  At the beginning of his gospel, Matthew tells us that when Jesus was born it fulfilled a prophecy that “‘they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” (1:23, ESV)  I have read this verse many times before.  Probably so many that I need to slow down and think about the importance of that verse again.  God Himself came down to be “with us.”  God’s love drove Him to reach out to the very creation that turned against Him by coming to us in the most personal way He could, as a human Himself.

What struck me as I was thinking, however, was that Matthew did not just begin his gospel by telling us that God was with us.  He ends it the same way.  The very last words Jesus speaks in Matthew’s gospel are an assurance to His disciples (and to us) that He is “with [us] always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, ESV)  Did Matthew intend to start and end his gospel with a reminder that in Jesus God is with us?  I’m not sure, but it stands out all the same.

Not only was God with us in Jesus when He was born and walked among us, but He is with us even now, after the resurrection, and He will continue to be with us until the end of the age!  What a powerful truth if we could grasp it fully.

What is interesting is that I have found myself thinking many times that if only Jesus were here, I could follow Him better or be influenced by Him more.  Jesus, however, told us the opposite.  It is by His going away that we are truly able to be influenced by Him.  Jesus said, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7, ESV)  We often wish we could have Jesus here in person like the disciples did.  Christ, however, told us that “it is to [our] advantage” (it is better) that He left and sent the Holy Spirit.  While He was here, he was localized; He was only in one place at a time, and only those near Him could benefit from His presence.  After the ascension, however, He can be with and in all of us at the same time and at all times through the Holy Spirit.

Let us always live with the knowledge that God is with us.  Not that God was with us in the past when Jesus was on Earth, but He is currently with us now through the Holy Spirit, and He is with us in a deeper and more intimate way than He was when He was with the disciples before He ascended.  What a wonderful truth!

Book Review – “Reframe” by Brian Hardin

A while back, Brian Hardin wrote a book called Passages that encouraged me to keep Scripture reading a priority in my life.  When I heard he had another book coming out, I was excited to read it.

Reframe: From the God We’ve Made to God with Us was an encouraging read.  In the book, Hardin encourages us to “Rethink” what we know about God, to “Reframe” our knowledge of Him and our life with Him, and to “Restart” our spiritual life as a “life-giving, collaborative relationship with God” (p. 152).  Hardin confronts some of the mistaken views we have of God and the Bible, encouraging readers to see God as someone who loves us deeply and passionately and wants us to know Him intimately and love Him with all of our hearts.  He wants us to see the word of God not as a rulebook, but as a story in which we see just how much God loves the people He made and wants to be in a relationship with us.  Hardin goes on to point out that while theology and doctrine are very important, ultimately it is the relationship with God that matters; it is the difference between knowing God and merely knowing about God.

Let me state clearly what the book is not.  It is not a “how-to” book.  If you are looking for a lot of deep information about how to actually live out this collaborative relationship with God, you will not necessarily find it here.  This is more of a surface-level introduction to the idea.  I didn’t realize this when I first started reading, so I began by expecting a little more.  As I was reading, however, I realized that Hardin’s goal seems to be not so much to show us exactly how to have this intimate relationship with God as it is just to remind us and reinforce the importance of having it.  If you are wanting to grow deeper, other books on spiritual disciplines would be a good follow-up to this one.

Overall, I thought the book was very good, especially to someone new to the idea of that deep relationship with God or for someone who feels as if everything has just grown a little dry in their spiritual life.  It would serve as a great foundation and introduction or springboard to get people thinking about how they need to change to have a more intimate relationship with God.

If you are looking for a reminder of what God wants from us, I definitely recommend this book.

Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.  

Letting the Word Dwell in You

I was blessed last night to have the opportunity to dramatically present the book of Jonah from memory at a local church.  I love being able to share God’s word in a fresh way with others.  I pray it blesses them as much as the people I got the idea from (Bruce Kuhn, Tom Meyer, Jason Nightingale, and Marquis Laughlin) bless me.

One of the things I do when I present dramatically is to encourage those listening to consider memorizing larger portions of God’s word (chapters or books) rather than just memorizing individual verses.  While memorizing specific verses is important, I believe that memorizing larger portions in context does something deep in us to make the word of God take a deeper root in our hearts and lives.

I want to encourage you to actively hide God’s word in  your heart (whether it is individual verses or larger passages).  We are told in Colossians to “[l]et the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (3:16, ESV).  Does the word of God dwell in you?  Is it living deep down inside of you instead of just visiting occasionally as you open the Bible and read?  Again, reading the word of God is good and necessary.  But letting the word of God dwell in us has special benefits.

For one thing, we are told that the person who meditates on God’s word is blessed (or happy, although this is a deeper form of happiness than we normally think about) in Psalm 1.  As we ponder God’s word and think about it, we become more firmly planted, “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” (Psalm 1:3)  This is not a picture of a tree barely surviving, but of a tree that is flourishing!  Our lives should be like that, and they will be more and more as we meditate on God’s word.  The idea of meditating is a picture of turning something over and over in our mind.  This is no casual reading of God’s word, but a deep and focused thinking on the content of the word of God.  To do this well, we really need the word inside of us, not just in a book that we pick up on occasion.

Second, as we meditate on God’s word, we will then realize it is one of the main ways God transforms us to be more like Christ.  As we begin to understand God and His ways and thoughts, we will “be transformed by the renewal of [our] mind.” (Romans 12:2, ESV)  As our minds are changed, so are we.  Our thoughts determine how we live our lives, so as our minds are filled with the very thoughts of God, our lives begin to morph into a life patterned after those thoughts.  Dallas Willard, one of the foremost teachers on spiritual discipline and being transformed into Christlikeness, has argued that Scripture memory is basically the most important spiritual discipline one can practice for this very reason.  If anyone is interested, he recommends memorizing Matthew 5-7, John 14-17, and Colossians 3, among other passages.

One last reason why Scripture memory is so important is that it keeps us from sin.  Psalm 119:11 says, “I have stored up your word in my hear that I might not sin against you.” (ESV)  As we meditate on God’s word and allow it to transform our minds and form us to be more like Christ, we are increasingly aware of what is holy and what is not.  By deeply immersing ourselves in God’s word, and letting it dwell in us, we are protected and armed against the tricks that Satan brings against us to turn us away from God’s ways.  As we know God’s word more, and as it abides more deeply in us, we can say with Paul that we “are not ignorant of [Satan’s] designs.” (2 Corinthians 2:11, ESV)  We are in a daily battle, so let’s be sure we are prepared to guard ourselves.

These are not the only reasons to memorize Scripture and let it dwell in us, but they are good ones to consider, I think.

Make it a point to begin committing Scripture to memory.  Challenge yourself to memorize larger portions.  Start with Psalm 1 (it’s only 6 verses) or 1 Corinthians 13.  Work your way up from there.  Take it one verse at a time, and God will enable you to grow in the knowledge of Him.

Book Review – “52 Little Lessons from A Christmas Carol” by Bob Welch

I am a huge fan of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. So when I saw that I could request a copy of 52 Little Lessons from A Christmas Carol by Bob Welch, I knew I had to read and review it.

This book serves as part devotional and part literary guidebook.  It looks at A Christmas Carol in an attempt to draw out some of the religious themes it contains and show us how to apply them to our lives.  Each chapter starts with a quote from the book (or one of the movie adaptations), which is then followed by an examination and explanation of the quote in the larger picture of the story and an application to our lives.  Each chapter will often also include Scripture to show how the story connects to Christian teaching.  Some of the chapter titles include “Don’t let people steal your joy,” “See life as a child,” “Bitterness will poison you,” “Your life matters more than your death,” “Before honor comes humility,” and “Grace changes everything.”

This is one book I will be keeping and looking at, along with Dickens’ classic itself, many times over.  It is a relatively quick read, with short chapters.  You could read it in a few sittings, or you could stretch it out as a daily or weekly devotional.

If you love A Christmas Carol, you will love the insights this book offers as well.  Pick up a copy and add it to your library.

Note: I received this book free from Book Look Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.