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July 2012

July 26, 2012

Reading Classics Together
In 2007 I had an idea that changed my life. For years I had wanted to read some of the classics of the Christian faith, but I knew that without a measure of accountability I would never have the self-discipline to make my way through them. I realized that this accountability could come by reading books together in community and decided to launch a reading program called Reading Classics Together.

In the years since this program began we’ve read some amazing classics from years gone by and from the present time. These include titles like Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul, and Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Most recently we read David McIntyre’s The Hidden Life of Prayer. These books and others like them have benefited me immensely and I know the same is true of those who have read along with me.

The Discipline of GraceHaving recently finished two older titles I think it is time to look at another contemporary classic—Jerry Bridge’s The Discipline of Grace. This is a book I have read before but one I am anxious to read again. We hear a lot of talk these days about being gospel-centered and about preaching the gospel to yourself. Bridges was telling us all of these things long before it was cool to do so. The publisher does a good job of explaining why this is an important book.

We know we need grace. Without it we’d never come to Christ in the first place, but being a Christian is more than just coming to Christ. It’s about growing and becoming more like Jesus—it’s about pursuing holiness. The pursuit of holiness is hard work, and that’s where we turn from grace to discipline—and often make a big mistake.

Grace is every bit as important for growing as a Christian as it is for becoming a Christian. “The pursuit of holiness,” writes Jerry Bridges, “must be anchored in the grace of God; otherwise it is doomed to failure.” Grace is at the heart of the gospel, and without a clear understanding of the gospel and grace we can easily slip into a performance-based lifestyle that bears little resemblance to what the gospel offers us.

According to Bridges, many Christians don’t have a good grasp of what the gospel message is. In The Discipline of Grace, he offers a clear and thorough explanation of the gospel and what it means to the believer. Bridges discusses how the same grace that brings us to faith in Christ also disciplines us in Christ, and how we learn to discipline ourselves in the areas of commitment, conviction, choices, watchfulness, and adversity.

If you’ve ever struggled with what your role is and what role God takes in your growth as a Christian, this book will comfort and challenge you as you learn to rest in Christ while vigorously pursuing a life of holiness.

Though this book follows two of his other titles, it stands very well on its own.

How does the Reading Classics program work? It’s easy! Simply get yourself a copy of the book and read the first chapter before August 9, two weeks from today. Then visit the blog on the 9th; I will have a reflection on the first chapter which you can read and, if you are so inclined, comment on. We will read a chapter a week until the book is finished. It’s that simple!

Buy It

The book is widely available.

If you’re going to read along with me, why don’t you just leave a comment below so I can get a gauge on interest.

July 25, 2012

This is just a quick note about a section of my site that, if you didn’t already know about it, might come in handy for you. I have recently put quite a lot of work into making it more organized and, therefore, more helpful.

I read and review quite a few books, which may well be one of the reasons you visit this site (or one of the reasons you first began to visit). Whether you’re looking for a recent review or wanting to read some of the ones I’ve done in the past, there’s a page on my site that makes that very easy (scrolling through pages of old blog posts not required!).

That would be my book reviews page. At the top of the page you’ll see featured slots for the top reviews for this month, this year, and all-time. Scroll down just a little bit and you can browse through every review I’ve done either by category (Fiction, Bestsellers, Christian Living, Theology, etc.) or by author.

Hopefully the features on this page will keep you from having to scan through too much other content and give you more time to actually read the reviews, or, better yet, the books themselves! Of course if you are looking for a specific book you can always use the search functionality that is at the top of each page.

July 25, 2012

A Place of Quiet RestI guess we need to get this out of the way right off the top—A Place of Quiet Rest is a book by women and targeted squarely at women (as if the cover art and font didn’t already tip you off!). It is written by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and includes contributions from twelve other authors and speakers, all of whom are likewise women. Though I knew all of this going in, I read the book without any compulsion and for my own benefit. And it really did benefit me. Let me explain.

Because personal devotions are a daily (or near-daily) part of my life, I try to ensure that I am doing them well, that I am not simply going through the motions, but making my times with the Lord a real and vital part of my life. To help me in this, I regularly read books on Scripture, prayer or the spiritual disciplines. Most of the books I have read in recent years have been written by men. Well and good. However, a few weeks ago I stumbled across this book on Aileen’s shelf and began to read it. I’m glad I did.

A Place of Quiet Rest is meant to lead the reader toward finding intimacy with God through a daily devotional life. In a friendly and personal way, DeMoss shares many of the lessons she has learned as she has sought the Lord day-by-day and year-by-year. What she longs for, and what she longs for her readers to experience, is not merely knowledge of God—the facts of who God is and what he has done—but true relationship with him. This, more than anything else, is what makes her book different from so many others. It is not about the technique, but about the goal at the end of it all—a growing delight in God himself.

July 24, 2012

While most of what finds its way into my mailbox is books, I also receive a surprising amount of music. This works out well since I happen to love listening to music while going about my daily work. Here are four recent releases I’ve been enjoying—two albums of acoustic traditional and modern hymns and two albums of Christian rap music.

A Thousand AmensA Thousand Amens - This may well be the only Anglican modern worship album on the market. It’s a good one. The Falls Church Anglican is one of those faithful congregations that refused to compromise the gospel and was forced out of its building. This album was recorded before they had to vacate their property. They sing a variety of songs, including several Sovereign Grace tunes, some hymns, and a few originals. I have especially enjoyed their cover of “Behold Our God” along with “Praise My Soul the King of Heaven” (and the amazing transition between the two).

Weight and GloryWeight & Glory - Weight & Glory is the debut album from Reach Records’ Kevin Burgess who goes by KB. “We have developed a pattern, a lifestyle that begins with a beautiful conversion and snowballs into a cyclical and sickening pattern. A complacent, idolatrous, lukewarm faith is more common than a radical, love-drunk soldier that has been set on fire. We fear the judgment of men. We lack the boldness to expose heresy. We are quick to lose hope. We are easily distracted.” The album is a call to be fixed on the weight of God’s glory and, with that in our minds and hearts, to battle hard for holiness. It is about as strong a debut album as you could hope for and it’s quickly become one of my favorite Christian hip hop albums. You can buy it at Amazon.

St Andrews HymnsSafely Home - Safely Home is a creation of a band called St. Andrews Hymns. The album has twelve tracks and all but a couple of them are hymns, some set to traditional melodies and some with original melodies. About half of the hymns are well-known with the rest coming from a little bit off the beaten path—a good thing! My favorites are “Down at the Cross” and “O Father You Are Sovereign.” It is available at Amazon.

The RestorationThe Restoration - Whether or not you enjoy rap music, you’ve got to appreciate an album with a title like this: The Restoration: The All-Sufficiency of Christ in the Gospel of Grace to Restore Ruined Sinners to Himself for their Joy and His Glory. I can’t sum it up any better than the official description: “With a title like that and Brindle’s history of being thorough on albums, one should expect a lengthy album on how God used the Gospel to restore Timothy in all areas of life. Moving from that, Timothy explains how the Gospel is the means that God uses to restore all of His people back to Himself, as well as all of creation. It is safe to assume that while this album is personal to Timothy, it is universal enough for all to enjoy.” Find it at Amazon.

July 24, 2012

Yesterday I shared the first part of my recent interview with Dr. R.C. Sproul. We discussed his new book, his teaching style, his view on Creation, how he determines where to place boundaries in cooperating with other Christians, and a few other topics. Today the interview continues…

This matter of “Christian celebrity” has come up in the past few years. How have you dealt with the pull toward pride and ego-inflation, and has this been a particular challenge for you?

RC SproulWell, everybody has to fight the sin of pride. I remember reading Benjamin Franklin’s resolutions when I was in college, where he, at one point in his life, was very committed to improving his moral conduct. He wrote a big list of virtues, and every day he checked off the virtues as to whether he achieved them or not. One of the things that he considered a great virtue was humility. He said he was careful to maintain a humble attitude toward things, so at the end of the day, he would write a check for humility, and then the next day, write a check for humility, and the next day write a check for humility. He said after a while he realized he was getting proud of his humility. Pride can come at you from so many different ways, and get you just when you think you’ve overcome it. It’s always there. 

This business about Christian celebrity, I don’t know what that means, really. If you talk about celebrities, you’re talking about people who are extremely well known, usually through national media such as television, movies, or professional sports. Everybody’s heard of Arnold Palmer and Elizabeth Taylor or people in the political arena. 

But to be a minister and to have a certain visibility because of lesser media such as radio and book writing, these are two different worlds. There’s the Christian publishing world and then there’s the New York Times bestseller world, and those two hardly ever cross over. So when you talk about Christian celebrity, you’re talking about a very small universe. I’ve had people introduce me to their friends and say: “This is R.C. Sproul. He’s famous.” I laugh because I say, “If I’m famous, you don’t have to tell people that.” So this whole celebrity thing is really overblown, I think. I don’t pay much attention to it.

Looking back over your life so far, and I emphasize “so far,” what are some of your personal regrets? What do the words “well done, good and faithful servant” mean to you at this time in your life?

I can remember—I’m going to take the second part first—that when my mentor, Dr. Gerstner, was getting older, into his later 70s and into his 80s, he seemed to take a second wind. He took on more and more and more labor when most men were retired at that age. I asked him about it, and he said he knew that he didn’t have much time left. He wanted to fill his days with as much productivity for the sake of Christ as could muster. That left a profound impact on me. 

July 23, 2012

I’ve often spoken of my love and respect for Dr. R.C. Sproul and the ministry he founded. I was recently given the opportunity to interview Dr. Sproul and turned to the readers of this site to see what they would like to ask him. Over the next two days I will share a transcript of the interview I conducted. In today’s installment I ask Dr. Sproul about his new book, his teaching style, his view on Creation, how he determines where to place boundaries in cooperating with other Christians, and a lot more.

What motivated you to write The Work of Christ? Was it an area in which you perceived a lack of theological understanding among Christians? Was it motivated by pastoral concern?

The Work of ChristWell, the very first series that I did in the field of adult education was in 1969 at a church in Philadelphia, and the series was on the work of Christ. That was such an exciting time for me. It really was pivotal because I acquired a taste, indeed a passion, for adult education as a result of that experience of working with the laity in the church. I saw how they responded when they gained a deeper understanding of all the things that Jesus did in His ministry. So that passion was born in 1969. It’s never really left me.

Recently we did that series in a new setting with a new audience, and out of that grew the inspiration for this book. I think it’s extremely important, because at the heart of the Christian faith is Christ—who He is and what He has done. This is so often overlooked in the church. It’s amazing to me, but yet it’s of critical importance for us as Christians to come to a deeper understanding of what Jesus has done.

[You can read my review of The Work of Christ here]

From the beginning of your ministry, your teaching style has always included pacing around the lectern and across the platform, as well as regularly writing key terms on a chalkboard. Can you tell us how your teaching style developed and share your insights on the nature of presentation in teaching others?

When we talk about teaching style, I guess some people think about a carefully choreographed style for communication. I’ve never done that. My teaching style is just an expression of who I am. My concern is always to get my message across. The idea of walking around and using a blackboard started in my teaching of philosophy and Bible as a professor in a college.

July 22, 2012

The Lord calls us to work hard to rest well. Scotty Smith recently shared a prayer on this very subject that looks to what he calls “a glorious paradox and beautiful irony.” He bases it on words from Hebrews 4 (which I’ve included at the end). Here is what he prays:

Heavenly Father, what a most glorious paradox and beautiful irony this portion of your Word presents. You’re calling us to work diligently, to invest great effort, to strive with all our might to rest from our works that we might enter the rest of your work. Work hard to rest well. Work hard to cease working.

Once again I’m confronted with how the gospel contradicts the fundamental way I’ve been trained to approach every sphere of life—athletics, education, finances, career, reputation. “Do it the good ole’ fashioned way—earn it.” “God helps those who help themselves.” “You’ll always get what’s coming to you.” “You can do anything you set your mind to do.” These mantras have been my motivation for much of life; but they also been my madness, because performance-based living never really brings rest, just more restlessness.

Father, because the gospel is true, fortunately, I didn’t get what’s coming to me. You gave that to Jesus at the cross. You put my sin on him. You punished him with the punishment I deserve. And in exchange, you’ve given me what I never could’ve earned: complete forgiveness, the righteousness of Jesus, and your permanent favor resting on me.

You don’t help those who help themselves. You help those who admit they can’t help themselves. Salvation is of the Lord! There’s no greater rest than to know you are at peace with me—to be certain that you are resting and rejoicing in great love over me.

Jesus, you created the world in six days and then entered a Sabbath rest. Likewise, when you died on the cross, securing our salvation and the restoration of creation, you cried, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Your work was over and you rested, and now we enter your rest. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah!

Our never-ending work is to hear and believe this gospel. “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29). What a most liberating vocation you have given us. So very Amen I pray, in your holy and gracious name.

Here is the text for the prayer:

“Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest. … So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:1-3, 9-11).

July 21, 2012

The house keys have been passed to our house-sitters, the dog has been sent to a pet penitentiary, and I am on vacation. I have fled the city (and the country, for that) with the wife and kids so we can spend a week with my parents, brother, sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews and miscellaneous others. We will be braving the Virginia heat and pretty much taking over a state park.

While we are away we intend to avoid any kind of connectivity to the Internet and pretty much every device that looks or functions like a computer. This is getting more and more difficult to do and required quite a lot of Pharisaical negotiation. You don’t realize how much you depend on electronic devices and Internet connections until you consider getting rid of it all. Someone should write a book about that.

Here is what we came up with:

  • GPS: Permitted. Reading a map is so last century, so we’ll rely on the Garmin to get us where we’re going. Plus, how else can we stop at every Chick-Fil-A between here and there?
  • Mobile Phone: Permitted en route, forbidden on location. Our van isn’t getting any younger, so I’ve got AAA on speed dial. Once I get to the park I’m turning it off.
  • Computer/iPad: Forbidden. If I want to write (which you know I will) I’m going to have to rely on, um, what do they call it…Paper!
  • Internet: Forbidden. Of course there’s no wifi in the state park and I’ve got no data plan in the US, but I will still have to avoid the temptation to drive to a McDonald’s just to get in a quick email fix.
  • Kindle: Permitted. With five readers in the family, we’d have to pull a trailer full of books if we didn’t bring our Kindles.
  • iPods: Permitted en route, forbidden on location. The kids saved up their paper route money and bought iPods. They can listen to music and play Dragonvale in the car, but can’t use the iPods once we arrive.

Even though I will be offline, there will be plenty of new content here at the blog. Monday and Tuesday will bring a really interesting interview with R.C. Sproul; you won’t want to miss it. Later in the week there will be a word about the next Reading Classics Together (you’ll want to join in the fun this time), a book review and, of course, Free Stuff Fridays. There will be no A La Carte until I return. See you on the other side of this self-imposed blackout!