Book Review: Clear Winter Nights (Wax)

Having read Trevin Wax before (through blog posts and a previous book of his) it was a joy to see him dive in to storytelling in a fictional format. I resonate with his journey a bit because I, myself, do not typically read fiction. To be honest I am more of a reader of theology, devotional literature, and christian living sort of books. Perhaps this similarity to diving in to a new genre is what caught my eye.

Anyways, this book is a short read–160 pages after acknowledgements–but it definitely packs a punch. The book is about a boy, Chris, who is doubting much of what his life was built around–faith, a relationship, a career path–and begins asking tough questions and assessing his desires to see what he ought to do. I believe this is something we can all admit to wrestling with. Trevin rightly writes about this season in our character’s life which many have referred to as “the dark night of the soul;” perhaps we know this sort of season all too well.

I love the way Trevin Wax was able to work through intricate themes in the form of dialogue. Towards the end of chapter 4 (don’t worry, no spoilers) there is a response from the grandfather to Chris stating:

“What if Christianity is bigger than ethics? What if it’s not about good people getting better but dead people coming to life? What if it’s not about man seeking God but God seeking man? What if it’s not about how people view God but how God views us? What if Christianity isn’t about you and me and everyone else in the first place? Those are the questions I hope you ask. They’re worth wrestling with…

…Chris, make sure you don’t use scholarship as a way of masking your doubts, of defending yourself against the Bible, of distancing yourself from God’s claim on your life.” (p.50)

The book is filled with this sort of pointed dialogue. You will find yourself siding with a given character throughout. Sometimes the girlfriend, sometimes the grandfather, others Chris. Trevin does an excellent job navigating complex themes and internal dialogues with storytelling and for the sake of keeping this brief I believe that this book is well worth picking up.

It is a shorter book but deals with a ton of issues on the topic of questioning, doubt, being unsure about your beliefs (or anything you stake your life on, really), and how to navigate those doubts to point towards the Gospel all the more.

The book releases September 17th, 2013. Surely be on the lookout for it.

A complimentary (advanced reading) copy of this book was provided for review purposes by the Multnomah Publishing. I was not required to post a positive review and the views expressed in this review are my own.

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Tradecraft: Being “On Mission”

Why is it sometimes difficult for people on mission to relate to unbelievers? What are good ways to have meaningful conversations?

I think that those of us “on mission” have progressively more and more Christian friends and fewer and fewer non-christian friends. I know it’s easy for me to get into a “holy huddle” and tend to have the desire to reach the others, but don’t often branch out of that because I know it will be uncomfortable and unknown.

To be honest, I play it too safe and selfishly keep it to myself.

——

One way to relate and to have meaningful conversations is to:

1) LISTEN. Don’t just listen with the intent to reply, or to use their words against them to prove your apologetic. Listen out of genuine care for the person, and ask God to open your heart up to them.

2) BUILD RELATIONSHIPS. If you do not have a relationship with someone, little to no trust has been built, and the things you are saying will not hold as much weight. God uses our investment in peoples’ lives to cultivate Gospel Opportunities and chances to not only talk about the Gospel in meaningful ways, but to be living in step with the Christian faith and joyfully serving our brother/sister.

3) PRAY. There’s nothing we can do in our own power. I can modify someone’s behavior with fluent speech, but I cannot change a heart. We don’t need to be “made better,” we need to be “made alive,” and this is something only God can do. Being on mission forces us into a place of discomfort, vulnerability, and dependence on the Holy Spirit, but we can find great comfort in knowing that God has promised to be a firm foundation amidst a world in chaos and constant change (2 Tim 2:19), that in the midst of storms Jesus is our sovereign peace (Matt 8:23-27), and that the Word of God will NEVER return void (Isaiah 55:11).

I can take great comfort in Matthew 16:18: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

May we trust that God is doing abundantly more than all we can ask or think (Eph 3:20-21), and trust that it is not our eloquent speech or memorized facts that will draw people to Jesus, it’s the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ Himself.

Book Review: Gospel Coach (Thomas)

Gospel CoachThe topic of christian leadership has always been a particularly interesting one to me, and as a leader within a church which stands firmly within the Acts 29 network this book was a given for me to get my hands on. I have got to say it did not disappoint.

I loved that this book addressed not only the necessity of having a Gospel coach, but also being a Gospel coach. The Gospel and leadership is not meant for consumption but replication; this was a welcome reminder.

Another aspect of this book that quite rooted with me was the holistic nature of what exactly a “Gospel Coach” is. Scott Thomas describes it through a framework of shepherding by laying out four particular coaching qualities I found helpful. A gospel coach leads through knowing his disciple(s), feeding his disciple(s) [and necessarily pointing them back to their ultimate source of nourishment–the Bible/God Himself], leading his disciple(s), and protecting his disciple(s). This was helpful for me because being a gospel coach involves much more than a weekly session of going through particular curriculum or leading a person through a particular area of their life. Being a Gospel Coach requires a level of investment in the person’s life; a sense of involvement in the person’s gospel growth in all areas of life–not merely the one in which we do as little as possible so we can check our “leading others” box off of our lists.

This being said, I would argue that one of this book’s strengths is it’s practical nature. This book does a good job at tackling potentially vague concepts and providing meat to them; setting out a framework of not only the idea of leadership, but what it would look like to tangible do this leadership. Put simply, this book’s strength lies within it’s ability to be implemented, not studied.

Central to the Gospel is relationship, and I believe that Gospel Coach drives us deeper into a relational model of leadership, where vulnerability, risk, and authenticity is present–and which I would argue that leadership ought to look like.

Lastly, one thing I thought as I was diving into the book is “how is this idea of a gospel coach different from a life coach?” This can be answered quite simply: for a Gospel Coach, the Gospel is always central and primary. This changes everything because the focus of meeting up and fleshing things out is not on self-improvement or rule-keeping; rather, the focus is on Gospel transformation, implementation, and growing into a deeper understanding of Grace and what that means for each of us personally.

In summary, Gospel Coach not only laid out a helpful framework of what it looks like to invest, love, and care for those you are leading/discipling, but it also provides a tangible look at what it may look like as you work it out in practice. Again, the beauty of the book is not in the content it provides but the implementation of said content, and if the Gospel remains central, I believe this book propels us in the right direction towards gospel fruitfulness and the glorification of Jesus, and not ourselves.

[[The book may be purchased here: http://ow.ly/fXLPpx%5D%5D
A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes by Zondervan Publishing. I was not required to post a positive review and the views expressed in this review are my own.

Christmas Love

C. S. Lewis put it like this,

‘Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.’

There is no way to have a real relationship without becoming vulnerable to hurt. And Christmas tells us that God became breakable and fragile. God became someone we could hurt. Why? To get us back. And if you believe this and take it into your life, you’re blessed. As you take in the truth of what he did for you—how loved and affirmed you are—you’ll be able to let down your defenses in your own relationships with other people. You won’t always need to guard your honor. You’ll be able to let down the barriers down. You’ll be able to move into intimate relationships with other people.

What is in the package of Christmas? His vulnerability for intimacy with us, which gives us the vulnerability to be intimate with the people around us. If you believe in Christmas—that God became a human being—you have an ability to face suffering, a resource for suffering that others don’t have.

~~ Tim Keller

Book Review: Date Your Wife (Justin Buzzard)

If you want to change a marriage, change the man.

With the recent influx of solid, gospel-centered literature on marriage, Justin Buzzard comes out with a short, extremely helpful supplement that does not disappoint. Men are charged with the responsibility to “love your wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25) and because of this, men are help responsible for their wives’ actions and well-being (see Genesis 3).

My first reaction was that this book would be a “you need to step up, cause you suck” sort of book [after all, the cover is a stern finger pointing directly at the reader], but I am pleased to say that this book is a sobering wake up call for men, written with practical steps to implement and respond to it’s content. When it comes down to it, this book lovingly comes alongside men to encourage and equip them to love their wives well, with the most central theme necessary: the Gospel.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is found on page 66: “You crush a man if you only talk to him about responsibility. You empower a man if you talk to him about responsibility— about living life in response to the power and ability of God.” It is necessary for us to realize that it is impossible to lead, love, and honor our wives as the Bible commands us to while acting in our own power–inherently separate from the Gospel. It takes godly submission, humility, and urgency to lead well, and this book helps show the significance of loving your wife well, and leading her in the ways of the Gospel.

I definitely recommend adding this short book (only 148 pages including the notes)to your collection on marriage and gospel-centered relationships. You won’t be disappointed.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes by Crossway Publishing. I was not required to post a positive review and the views expressed in this review are my own.

Union With Christ and Sanctification

“[As a Christian] you have to face a great deal of opposition from the world, the flesh, and the devil. But as the new creatures that you are in Christ — risen with him, with the power of his resurrection mediated through the Holy Spirit into the actual living of your life — you can stand fast. You pray for power to stand fast. You set yourself to stand fast. And you find that you are standing fast. In his strength you can do it. And this is one of the secrets of sanctification, the secret which I would say matches, balances, and complements what we were saying earlier on about mortification (draining life out of sinful desires, urges, and lusts). . . . [Union with Christ] is the basic relationship from which flows the gift of the Spirit who indwells you and through which, via the Spirit, comes the power to model your life behaviorally on Christ.”

~ J.I. Packer on Union with Christ and Sanctification

Help, Lord

“Help, Lord.”—Psalm 12:1.

The prayer itself is remarkable, for it is short, but seasonable, sententious, and suggestive. David mourned the fewness of faithful men, and therefore lifted up his heart in supplication—when the creature failed, he flew to the Creator. He evidently felt his own weakness, or he would not have cried for help; but at the same time he intended honestly to exert himself for the cause of truth, for the word “help” is inapplicable where we ourselves do nothing. There is much of directness, clearness of perception, and distinctness of utterance in this petition of two words; much more, indeed, than in the long rambling outpourings of certain professors. The Psalmist runs straight-forward to his God, with a well-considered prayer; he knows what he is seeking, and where to seek it. Lord, teach us to pray in the same blessed manner.

The occasions for the use of this prayer are frequent. In providential afflictions how suitable it is for tried believers who find all helpers failing them. Students, in doctrinal difficulties, may often obtain aid by lifting up this cry of “Help, Lord,” to the Holy Spirit, the great Teacher. Spiritual warriors in inward conflicts may send to the throne for reinforcements, and this will be a model for their request. Workers in heavenly labour may thus obtain grace in time of need. Seeking sinners, in doubts and alarms, may offer up the same weighty supplication; in fact, in all these cases, times, and places, this will serve the turn of needy souls. “Help, Lord,” will suit us living and dying, suffering or labouring, rejoicing or sorrowing. In Him our help is found, let us not be slack to cry to Him.

The answer to the prayer is certain, if it be sincerely offered through Jesus. The Lord’s character assures us that He will not leave His people; His relationship as Father and Husband guarantee us His aid; His gift of Jesus is a pledge of every good thing; and His sure promise stands, “Fear not, I WILL HELP THEE.”

~ C.H. Spurgeon (From Morning and Evening, a daily devotional)