Friday, June 21, 2013

In Immanuel's Land

I've been listening through Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology lectures and recently was exposed to a hymn that has deeply impacted me. Wayne mentioned it in one of his lectures, so I looked it up and have read it many times every day since then. It's called "The Sands of Time Are Sinking," by Anne Ross Cousin.

This hymn is nothing like modern music, which I think is a shame. Anne knew something that we're missing today. If you read the lyrics you'll see that she was deeply moved by her future inheritance and eternal existence in Heaven. But she wasn't concerned with what she would be doing there, how it would feel, the bad that was finally gone - although all of these are elements of Heaven. Anne knew her Bible, because what she was focused on what God Himself. She knew that He is Heaven - being with Him forever is what makes that future glorious.

I've done a bit of studying about Heaven and think of it often. I try to maintain an eternal perspective, with that day clear in my vision as I live this life. This song comes as close to painting that vivid picture as any other I've ever heard ("Jesus Paid It All" and "Before The Throne of God Above" are also up there on my list). Take some time to read these lyrics and let Jesus be the only desire you have in Heaven.

The sands of time are sinking,
The dawn of Heaven breaks;
The summer morn I’ve sighed for-
The fair, sweet morn awakes:
Dark, dark had been the midnight
But dayspring is at hand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.

O Christ, He is the fountain,
The deep, sweet well of love!
The streams on earth I’ve tasted
More deep I’ll drink above:
There to an ocean fullness
His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.

The king there in His beauty,
Without a veil is seen:
It were a well-spent journey,
Though seven deaths lay between:
The Lamb with His fair army,
Doth on Mount Zion stand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.

O I am my Beloved’s
And my Beloved is mine!
He brings a poor, vile sinner
Into His house of wine.
I stand upon His merit-
I know no other stand,
Not e’en where glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.

The bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory
But on my King of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth
But on His pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory
Of Immanuel’s land.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Book Review: Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart by J.D. Greear

Image courtesy of ChristianAudio.com
Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart is another one of those book titles that catches your eye instantly and causes you to pause to read what it's all about. I had hoped that it would focus on true repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus, but honestly feared it was something far from that - especially since it's such a relatively short book. To my delight, this book met and exceeded my expectations.

As someone who had asked Jesus into his heart multiple times and doubted the security of his salvation, J.D. Greear writes on a topic that is applicable not just to the unsure but to all Christians. There are many people I've talked with who believe a friend or loved one is saved because they prayed the "sinner's prayer" when they were young, despite lacking any commitment to the faith and bearing no fruit that is in accordance with righteousness as an adult. They can be perfectly nice people, but nice doesn't get your sins forgiven - only Jesus does. This is where Greear's book is so useful.

The format is very straight-forward, as is evidenced in the table of contents:
  1. Baptized Four Times
  2. Does God Even Want Us To Have Assurance?
  3. Jesus In My Place
  4. What Is Belief?
  5. What Is Repentance?
  6. If "Once Saved, Always Saved," Why Does The Bible Seem To Warn Us So Often About Losing Our Salvation?
  7. The Evidence You Have Believed
  8. When You Continue To Doubt
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Although the book is only 128 pages including two appendices, it is theologically rich. Every page is packed with depth - no space is wasted here. Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart shows biblically what true Christianity is and how this gives assurance of salvation. Greear spends a good amount of time dealing with common insecurities people have with their salvation, particularly in the belief and repentance sections, which I found to be very clear in communicating what it means to truly turn to Jesus. Christians young and old would do well to read this book, if not to correct any errant beliefs about repentance and salvation, than to be reminded where life in Christ begins and ought never to leave (it only digs deeper).

I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Tom Parks. He has a strong but warm voice, talks clearly, and reads at a decent pace. I preferred to set the audiobook at 2x speed, however, because it felt a little more natural and is a personal preference of mine (I commonly do this with audiobooks).

This would be a great gift for anyone, including nonbelievers who may have a distorted idea of what "belief in Christ" means, and I would definitely recommend it without hesitation. It is biblical, Gospel-focused, practical, yet profoundly rich.

More Information
J.D. Greear's website: www.jdgreear.com
Twitter: jdgreear
Free Study Guide for this book: download here
Interview with J.D. Greear via TheGospelCoalition about Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart
Purchase on Amazon: Hardback / Kindle
Purchase on ChristianAudio.com: audiobook

NOTE: I listened to this audiobook through ChristianAudio.com's reviewers program and was given a copy to download in exchange for my unbiased review.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Book Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

As a therapist with a Master's degree in Psychology, I have often studied personality differences. I feel as though I have a very good handle on intraversion and extraversion*, and commonly incorporate these elements in my practice with individuals and with couples. There has been a good amount of research on the subject of personality, but it's always exciting to come across a resource that offers new information or summarizes the research that's out there in a comprehensive way. Quiet by Susan Cain is one of those resources.
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I was originally intrigued by Tim Challies' review of this book (which is how I heard about it) because I am not an introvert. My wife is, however, so when I told her about this book she was very interested and began reading it. Halfway through she recommended it to me and raved about how it had impacted her. Naturally, after hearing this I had to read it for myself. This review will be from an extrovert's point of view.

Quiet is mainly about introverts in a world of extroversion. Cain argues, chapter by chapter, that our society has increasingly catered to extroversion and in the process has devalued the power of introverts. One of the book's best features is the research that went into it. Cain saturated the pages of Quiet with study after study about how introverts and extroverts interpret, interact with, and impact the world in very different ways.

Reading this book was tremendously helpful for me as an extrovert in understanding myself, but also in understanding introverts. I found myself observing conversations with introverts and becoming more aware of how they interact with me. I adjusted to these conversations and was impressed with how it positively impacted the depth of our dialogue and connection as a result. Quiet helped me gain patience and confidence in my conversations with introverts, but more importantly it humbled me. All of a sudden I found myself learning from them and seeing the value of quiet in my own communication patterns.

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I have already recommended this book to friends and clients, and received good feedback about it. Introverts have told me they have felt more validated in their personality style, less insecure about themselves in relationships, and taken more risks in communication. I can see Quiet being a helpful book for both introverts and extroverts alike, applicable to just about any domain, both personal and professional.

My only qualm with this book is Cain's references to evolution throughout the book. Quiet does not claim to be a Christian book, although it does contain many biblical references describing characters' personalities. As a Christian, however, the evolution references definitely felt out of place and unwarranted, adding no value to the subject matter. I found myself wanting to skip over those brief sections and make my own applications from a biblical worldview. This gave me a greater appreciation for the complexities of personality, and drew me deeper into worship of God for having created these complexities to reflect Himself. Despite this qualm, I highly recommend Quiet and will likely read it again and again myself.

I received this book from WaterBrook Multnomah as part of their Blogging for Books program in exchange for my unbiased review.

More Information

You can visit the author's website, The Power of Introverts, and take an informal Introvert/Extrovert Quiz.

Susan Cain gave a TED talk (which just surpassed 4 million views as of the date of this writing) that summarizes the book fairly well. You can watch it here:



*Susan Cain chose to use the layperson spelling for introversion and extroversion, rather than the clinical spellings, as they are more recognizable. As such, I decided to comply with this review as well.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Like Us Yet So Different

I've been doing some studying on the humanness of Jesus for an upcoming event, and I've been struck by the incredible paradox between His similarities as a person yet distinct differences in how He lived out His personhood. Here are a few examples of those and how they've impacted me:

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Jesus was loyal. As a man with 12 close friends, he was always supportive and encouraging of them. Even Peter, probably the most thick-skulled of the disciples, received Jesus' loyalty. This gives me such hope because if Peter can deny Jesus unto His death and He would still entrust His church to him, then no matter what I do I can be confident that the Lord will stick by my side. And I know that because Jesus went all the way to the cross when even God the Father turned His back on Him, He will always be a loyal friend.

Jesus was faithful. There were so many times when Jesus could have let His glory be made manifest to those around Him, but He held back because it was not yet His time. He could have displayed His Kingship to the people so they could worship Him right then and there, but that wasn't the cup His Father gave Him. The faithful man He was, Jesus did only that which His Father had given Him to do, even to give up His life so that I could live. His commitment to taking my sins from me and exchanging them for righteousness was unwavering - exactly the kind of friend we all want from another person.

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Jesus was compassionate. I think that on one level it would be easier to be compassionate with strangers, as He was with the sick and poor, and much more difficult with those closest to you. The Scriptures identify so many instances where Jesus' disciples "didn't get it" or lacked faith in Him, and yet Jesus was still able to have compassion for them. One example of this is with Thomas, who is famous for doubting Jesus had resurrected until he saw with his own eyes and touched His scars with his own hands. Why did Jesus do this? One reason is that He had compassion for Thomas' struggle for faith and allowed Him to physically experience His resurrection so that he might believe. And Jesus' compassion for Thomas was also compassion for us today when we struggle to believe, because we have not seen (as Thomas did).

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As I meditate on these, I see how human Jesus is and can relate to Him so much more than before. It's almost like I can see His decision points where He chose to keep loving instead of fall away to selfishness or sin (like I do). I can appreciate His own struggles and the heavy weight of continuing to choose to obey the Father rather than appease His own flesh. In fact, I feel the weariness of those continued choices compounding, as each one makes the one following it that much more difficult because Jesus was bearing the weight of my sin rather than punishing me for it right there on the spot. Yes, the cross was a fatal burden to bear, but looking at His life I also see His astounding love which enabled Him to carry that burden for years prior to His death as He ministered to the people around Him. He was a man like us, yet so different from any man I've ever known.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Burdens of Sin and Suffering

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It's been a while since I've had some regular time to write over the summer, but now that things are back to full swing with school I'm hoping to get back into it. In the past couple months I've been following German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, starting with his biography from Eric Metaxas and recently his well-known book The Cost of Discipleship. Since starting his biography, I have become fascinated with him and enthralled with how he lived out his faith at the center of the Nazi Third Reich, easily the most atrocious time in history. He was a brilliant thinker but he also sought fervently to understand and apply what his mind came to understand.

In Discipleship (this is its original German title), Bonhoeffer describes how Christians are able to suffer in a very different way from anyone else. He says that the heaviest burden people carry is that of sin and its ultimate wage - death. With this looming destiny and the ongoing guilt of violating God's holiness, we are weighed down and suffer in the deepest sense possible, though we may not even be aware of it. When we repent of our sins and believe in Jesus, however, something incredible happens. Jesus absorbs that massive burden, of which nothing else can compare, and exchanges it with His righteousness. Now instead of carrying the heavy burden of sin, we are freed from its guilt and carry His easy yoke of love, peace, and joy.

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This is the part that has been blowing my mind. Bonhoeffer explains that no harm or difficulty we may face in life can ever compare to the pain of the guilt and punishment of sin. This means that because of what Christ has done for us on the cross, He has enabled us to endure suffering because we do so without our heavy burden and with the power of the Holy Spirit strengthening us! Any tribulation, oppression, or hardship can be overcome because we have been cured of the deadly disease of sin - these other difficulties are like the common cold in comparison.

Please don't hear me saying that challenges in life are easy. That's not what I'm saying. What I am saying is that if we really understood the weight of our sin and the glory of Christ who has removed it from us, we would be able to experience life in a completely different way - one that lives upon His "easy yoke" and "light burden" (Matthew 11:30).

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As I've been thinking about it this week, I've come to see my challenges in a new light. When others ridicule me for my faith, I remember that I am righteous before God only because of Jesus and realize they may not be; they may still be enslaved under the yoke of sin and needing my compassion. Without my sin, this is a much easier task! Or when some financial trouble arises, I think about the great debt that Christ paid for me and remember that I am an heir in His Kingdom. I know I am but an exile in this life, a pilgrim journeying toward my true home where crowns and treasures await me.

I've comprehended before what it meant for my sin to be paid for by God, but Bonhoeffer's perspective on it opened up a whole new world of understanding and application. Thanks be to God for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and even more for Jesus who is the worthy cause of Dietrich's suffering!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Book Review: The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung

Image Courtesy of ChristianAudio.com
Here's another offering from an author whose blog I've followed for quite a while but whose book is my first. Kevin DeYoung writes often for The Gospel Coalition and has written many other books prior to this one, which really shows in his clear and contemporary writing style. The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness is DeYoung's exortation for Christians to embrace the command from God to be holy as He is holy, and to pick up our responsibility by responding in obedience - in the right way.

DeYoung's argument is that Christians today are concerned with many things, but have forgotten to care deeply about holiness. He explains - gently and urgently, not with any judgment or self-righteousness - that holiness should be a primary focus in the personal and corporate life of all Christians, leading to the production of "good fruit" which bears witness to the gospel of Jesus. Growing in holiness, therefore, is balances obedience to the gospel (faith) and evidence of it in the Christian's life (works).

The means of achieving this are very biblical, as you can expect from DeYoung, and grounded in solid theology. He describes the process as being Spirit-powered, gospel-driven, and faith-fueled. In other words, holiness is something that requires faith on the part of the believer to obey God's commands, becomes possible through the power of the Holy Spirit in us, and centers around Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.

Image Courtesy of Amazon.com
There are no magical pills or extraordinary behaviors of pursuing holiness. Instead, the ordinary acts of prayer, bible reading, fellowship in church, and the sacraments are highlighted as the means of producing the extraordinary result. Many modern Christians may see these as outdated, monotonous, legalistic, and unspectacular means, but DeYoung reminds us that these daily acts produce fellowship with Christ in a personal relationship, manifested in community with others doing the same. It is these very ordinary daily obediences that allow Christ to sanctify us, as this is His work and not ours. He offers no shortcut or simple way of achieving what can only be attained through laboring and longsuffering, as the Bible does no such thing either.

A final highlight of The Hole in Our Holiness is DeYoung's address on holiness within our sexual lives. This has to be one of the most relevant of all themes, particularly because of the American culture's fixation with and desensitization to sexuality. It did seem to stand out a bit as a targeted topic, but after reading it I could see why this was so. I won't say more on this but recommend you read it yourself to find out why it was a necessary focus in this book on holiness.

As far as the narration goes, it was superb. Adam Verner does a solid job of characterizing the tone of the book, he's easy to understand, and reads at a good pace (one of my personal particulars).
Overall, this book sits confidently on the shelf (or Kindle) next to others on holiness from the likes of Jerry Bridges and JC Ryle. While it's easy to read, it's challenging to swallow because it's Scripturally grounded and convicting. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to go deeper in their relationship with Jesus - you won't be disappointed!

Desiring God interviewed the author and posted the series in 7 videos, addressing these topics from the books. I found the clips to be a great introduction to the book, and well worth the time if you're interested in possibly picking up the book.

  1. What's The Hole in Our Holiness?
  2. My Sanctification in Redemptive History
  3. The Imitation of Christ
  4. The Most Neglected Theme in Sanctification
  5. The Many Motivators for Personal Holiness
  6. Extraordinary Holiness Through Four Ordinary Means
  7. How Far is Too Far Before Marriage?
I listened to this audiobook through ChristianAudio.com's reviewers program and was given a copy to download in exchange for my unbiased review.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Book Review: The Next Story by Tim Challies

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I've followed Tim's blog for a couple years and have always connected with the way his mind thinks, what he thinks about, and his love for God in his writing. So when he released The Next Story last year, I immediately put it on my list of books to read. I was a little unsure as to whether his writing would translate the same way in book form as on his blog, but I can confidently say that it exceeded my expectations.

The Next Story is about how today's digital world has permeated our lives in many different ways, from the wristwatch to the iPhone, and how we should think about all these forms of technology from a biblical perspective. Needless to say, I don't think there's a more relevant subject matter for Christians - particularly the younger generation and people who find themselves "connected" in more ways than one.

There are many strengths I could speak of in this book. One of them is the historical perspective Challies takes on many different aspects of technology. For example, he looks back at how taking time with you in the form of a pocketwatch revolutionized how people related in the world. Instead of being engaged in the immediate (present), people became more aware of the past and the future, living in them above living in the moment because of this awareness and accountability of time being mobile. With this approach, Challies presents the unintentional - both positive and negative - effects of technology.

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One of the points Challies addressed in this book that impacted me the most was his explanation of "media." He described it as anything that is mediated - rather than allowing people to connect directly, media becomes something that acts as a go-between so that messages are intercepted by the medium and delivered to its intended receiver. Now, this seems pretty obvious, especially since we've had email for years now. But have you ever stopped to think about the impact email mediating conversations has on communication and relationships? If you've ever used email, I'm sure you've had many instances where something that was communicated via email was misunderstood or misinterpreted. Challies identifies the medium, email in this case, as the culprit, and argues that we need to consider when and how we allow technology to mediate our communication and relationships with one another. This has had a profound effect on how I interact with technology, and I've found myself preferring to make calls above texting or emailing, which I'd previously preferred.

Application is another great strength of  The Next Story . Challies took great effort not just to philosophize about technology but to give guidance about how his critical thinking could be applied practically. At the end of each chapter he provides a section specifically for application to get you thinking personally about your own use of technology. I found this very helpful and a valuable use of space in the book.

I could write more but he did such a great job in his book that I'm going to limit my review here and recommend you pick it up and read it for yourself. I was able to find it at the library (which I often do for books so I can decide if it's worth purchasing) but I can say that it's worth dropping a Hamilton on [Kindle edition]. In fact, you might want to opt for a $20 instead to buy two and give one to a friend. And while you're at it, consider subscribing to his blog as well.

You can follow Tim Challies on Twitter and Like him on Facebook.

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