It’s Not Supposed To Be That Way by Lysa Terkeurst

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It came as an anonymous gift. I’d heard people speak of this book by Lysa Terkeurst but always assumed it was a book written specifically for women. To be sure, the author is extremely popular among Christian women, and while the book might be written in a style that would appeal to that market, it has something to say to any of us.

The value of the book might be commensurate to your own level of current tragedy. As it turns out, I’m in some of the darker days of my own life and could relate to the author on so many levels. She shares her story, but her message is not pigeonholed to her exact circumstances. All it takes to find value in what she says is to be at a place where life seems completely turned upside down and the view forward is unclear.

Had I read this book, say, a year ago I might have thought it was a little over the top. Perhaps she was a little too raw and let us into her turbulent, almost ugly emotions as they zigged and zagged and rose and crashed even lower repeatedly. Then, I walked that treacherous road myself and wondered if she had been spying on me. Being a guy I held it a little more together in front of everyone else than her, but my emotions on the inside were as messy and even shocking to me as hers were to her.

I will take her at her word that she was completely the victim of what had happened to her, though if she even had any blame somewhere I don’t think it would have changed the message of the book any. I could still relate to her book though my story was different. I was at once a perpetrator and a victim. I had the additional wrestling of trying to figure out before the Lord where the line between the two was. The book still spoke clearly to my heart.

Still, I could feel inside my own heart some of the same feelings she so vividly exposed in her own. The shock. The shame. The exasperation. The uncertainty. The unclear trek ahead. She had had a writing and public speaking ministry that was probably most popular to married Christian ladies and now her own marriage had fallen apart. I was a pastor who loved the ministry beyond description and the walls came tumbling down. Then there are all the other ripples and currents that go to so many other areas of life.

Sometimes I got the feeling she was writing to herself and we were just eavesdropping. Maybe that’s why the book works so well. It’s more about principles that a Christian must wrestle with when life gets completely topsy-turvy. It’s like things you know, but you need the strongest reminder. It’s like things you would have told people in the past, and now you have to tell yourself every moment. I appreciate that she never presented herself as this perfectly packaged Christian who had it all together and was just facing each blow with perfect faith and fortitude. No, it was almost touch-and-go, but a constant bottom-line Christianity that knew there was nowhere to go but to the Lord. She got past worrying about how to understand Him or what He was doing, but just to continue going to Him. And, yes, a faith that realized that the Lord loved her and though she was going a road she despised traveling, somehow, though maybe not in this life, Christ would only take her closer to Himself. There comes a time in life when platitudes won’t do. Those words that could roll so easily off the tongue in a sermon or a discussion without a moment of thought are exposed for all the uncaring that is behind them.

Instead of that tripe that fills the thousands of pages of regurgitated Christian self-help books, she reminded us that the Christian life is a battle, that we are dust, that we are broken, and that a bunch of horrible things really could work together for good in the Lord’s hands.

She made no promises she couldn’t keep. Neither to herself, nor to we who read her book. She still didn’t know how things would turn out and neither do we. There simply is no help until we can figure that out. There are things we can’t control and there are outcomes we can’t produce.

She also refuted the lie that if we can just survive this round of trouble all will be well. On the heel of her family tragedy came the dark blow of cancer. Weakened by the first onslaught she had nothing left to face the second one. Our problems may not go away. The next problem, itself large and scary, may come before we’ve had a chance to heal and strengthen from the first one. Perhaps we’ve overlooked that aspect of Job’s story in Scripture.

So what was the good thing that she had to say besides the spiritual nuggets mentioned above that may be more dreadful to realize than to never have thought about them? Well, it certainly wasn’t a three-, five-, or ten-step program to cancel our tragedy. That would have been too simple anyway, wouldn’t it have been? You may not like the answer. She may not like how I will summarize it. But it is the only answer there is. Trust. Live closely nestled up to Jesus. Expect more possibly. And when it comes, trust. Live closely nestled up to Jesus. It may be as hard to do tomorrow as it was today. Still, trust. Live closely nestled up to Jesus. This is all there is. This is all we need. Trust because we will someday see how He worked it all out. Live closely nestled up to Jesus because that’s the only way to survive the journey until then. It is what we were always meant for anyway.

THANK YOU to whoever sent me this book! I’m sincerely grateful.

The Covenanters–A Beautiful New 2-Volume Release!

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If you are familiar with Church history, then you are likely aware of the spectacular period of Scottish church history beginning at the Reformation and extending throughout the 1600s. Besides some incredible believers and servants of Christ that we can be challenged by, there are all the thrills that any historical reader craves. Religion, palace intrigue, bloodshed, and rousing courage combined to make those costly days to follow Christ.

Banner of Truth dominates the market for this kind of history. They do it right as well. These two volumes by J.K. Hewison would catch your eye on any shelf among other books. The artwork on each volume is the best of any book I’ve seen this year. The binding is durable to last for years to come too. The word “heirloom” comes to mind. (Would make an exceptionally nice gift).

What is between the covers is captivating as well. It would be hard to fail as a writer with that kind of material to work with, but Hewison totally succeeded. He struck the right balance between a truly scholarly work and an enjoyable read. He was fair and didn’t sugarcoat the lives of believers either. Occasionally pictures are even provided.

This book can be used either as a reference to study persons or events or as a fine read with equal parts history and devotion. You will likely have your own favorite episodes as you read. For some reason, Mary, Queen of Scots, grabbed my attention.

If I were forced to only have one title on those magnificent Scottish Christians, this two-volume set would be my choice hands down!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

The Lord’s Prayer by Wesley Hill

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This short volume on the Lord’s Prayer by Wesley Hill is designed to shake off the dust and routine that many on us have covering that model prayer Christ shared. The subtitle “a guide to praying to our Father” is wisely kept prominent throughout. Hill leads us on a thoughtful journey through every phrase of that prayer.

To be sure, there were times I didn’t line up theologically with Hill, nor would I agree with every capitulation to modern times I felt he made, but this book led me deeper into the Lord’s Prayer. It replaced staleness with vibrancy on several occasions. He gives clear evidence of unrushed thinking and the results often gratify.

Lexham Press has started a series of “Christian Essentials” which includes this title. If this is what we can expect, I predict the series might be quite popular.

This book draws you back to the Lord’s Prayer as if it were a neglected friend. What better measure of success could this little book have?

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Ecclesiastes: Life in a Fallen World by Benjamin Shaw

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Benjamin Shaw finds a helpful message in Ecclesiastes that he delivers in this book. Since most modern works on Ecclesiastes tell us that we can find nothing more than a dark, depressing diatribe on its pages, this book is a breath of fresh air! In my view, though I readily admit both a need and use of modern exegetical commentaries, I’m convinced that works of this sort are equally needed. Whether you fully agree with Mr. Shaw or not, you will have to love how he opens up the positive possibilities of Ecclesiastes.

In the brief forward, Mr. Shaw makes us feel that we are trusty hands. He has no doubt about Ecclesiastes place in the canon of Scripture, he has no trouble seeing a clear message on its pages, and he has no disdain to say that Solomon is its author. If you survey works on Ecclesiastes, you will soon discover how difficult it is to find works that abide by these three simple, conservative viewpoints. By default, this book’s going to give you some helpful things that some books many times larger have no hope of delivering.

As the subtitle suggests, he sees Ecclesiastes as a book that will help the believer live in a fallen world. I might quibble with a few of his observations, but feel he provides insights in all 22 of his chapters of the most helpful nature. Whether it be pastors preparing messages, Sunday School teachers working out lessons, or any Bible student just attempting to dig out the Word of God, you can’t go wrong with this book.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

The Pastor of Kilsyth by Islay Burns–A Nice Biography

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So you’re never heard of W. H. Burns? Neither had I. Before I began reading this lovely biography, I noticed that the publishers put out an advertising blurb about this being a great biography for our celebrity-driven age. It’s clear what they meant. I can be challenged by a biography of a Christian celebrity to some degree, but not in the sense that I can ever do what they have done or will be what they have been. This biography is of a simple believer who was a pastor whose faithful life though unknown to the world gave off a glory that redounds unto the Lord Jesus Christ. That you and I can do. And that is why this biography is of the stripe that is especially needed today.

W. H. Burns was a pastor from the heralded Scottish orbit of outstanding preachers. That Iain Murray called this one of the best Scottish ministerial biographies we have carries much weight as his own biographies that are so often unassuming still have more impact than so many modern biographies.

Not only will you trace faithful ministry, but this volume can also be placed in your revival literature. God blessed Kilsyth with revival. I don’t know about you, but I always am blessed by that type of reading. Later chapters even give insight on what is needed for revival, though the perspective that revivals come from God is never denied. There are descriptions of how the revivals were carried out as well that can be insightful. The book even ends with four sermons that are imbibed with a revival atmosphere.

Banner of Truth is one of the modern Christian publishers that most takes publishing books seriously. Their hardbacks are of a quality that has surpassed most others and their dust jackets are always attractive. They still produce books that your grandchildren can own. I’m glad not everyone has caved to the idea that digital will own the future. I believe there still is a market and a future for books like this one. This book is a great biography for pastors and Christian families!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Maturity by Sinclair Ferguson

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Over the past few years, I’ve made it a point to read new works by Sinclair Ferguson that come along. I’ve been blessed immensely and have greatly expanded my doctrinal understanding of many points. I don’t always agree with him, but he can’t be dismissed carelessly as he thinks deeply before pen ever touches paper. As it turns out, this work on maturity or growing up and going on in the Christian life is a revised volume of the work he wrote in his earlier days. It’s not as overtly doctrinal as other works of his that I’ve read, but the doctrinal underpinnings are obvious throughout. As the title suggests, it has a devotional flavor and is really geared to propel us forward in our Christian lives.

The book is simply set up. There are five subjects of growing up, standing firm, facing difficulties, pressing on, and maturity that gets anywhere from 1 to 4 chapters each. Some sections were more valuable to me than others, but that probably has more to do with needs in my life rather than a wavering quality of writing.

His first chapter throws down the gauntlet for why maturity is so critically important to Christians. A few paragraphs in and Ferguson refuses to allow us to think that there’s some magic formula to rush the process of maturity. As he says, it takes time and patient progress. There are several hindrances, which he outlines carefully, but the Bible also presents a process that will lead to maturity – a process that we should cooperate with. Later, he’ll talk about the key of abiding in Christ and what he calls full assurance. He tackles what guidance is as well.

In the next section, just as you would expect if you’re familiar with Ferguson’s writings, he outlines the problem of sin. From there he’s going to talk about handling temptation and fighting the enemy. In one of the best sections of the book, he talks about coping with suffering. In the section called “pressing on”, he explained serving faithfully and running patiently. He concludes with one chapter on maturity itself.

The book is well written. He marshals much Scripture, disperses much doctrine, and gives practical, balanced help. There’s none of the cheesiness of so many current titles on the market today. If you want realistic help, a help that understands that sanctification is a lifelong affair as is the maturity that springs from it, then this is the book for you.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

The Curious Christian by Barnabas Piper

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Ok, so this is different. I’ve reviewed many Christian books and yet never one like this one. I opened it thinking that this book would be a cute idea and closed it convinced the lack of curiosity and wonder both have misled us over the years and strangles us in the present. The author, Barnabas Piper, could be the poster child for positive curiosity for his pervasive love of it. On the first page, the dedication of the book, and throughout the whole book, it’s clear his mother instilled a lusty, vigorous sense of wonder in him. What she instilled, he has imbibed into all of life. He has even absorbed this curiosity and tested its reliability with Scripture. Before you question the biblical thread of his argument, be sure to read him first. I think you’ll be won over. I was.

Part 1 takes three chapters to explain what curiosity is, what it is not, how important it is, and what its lack might cost us—binary thinking and missed or damaged relationships. He further shows how God has filled His creation with wonder and that curiosity has an element of seeking Him. He further digs in the Bible to show the vast difference between childlikeness and childishness. He champions imagination and looks at how culture has run from curiosity.

Part 2 gives eight chapters on “curious about…?” We are told to be curious about the right things before we are reminded of boundaries. Since there are grotesque things that even Scripture tells us not to think about, curiosity is morally bound. Some might wonder if he presents those boundaries distinctly enough, but likely he supposes discernment can guide us there.

I loved his observations; for example, how to balance information and curiosity. He said, “Google is the evil empire making us all dumber, ruining education, and providing easy answers to hard questions. Instead of thinking, we type, and we’re all worse for it.” Exactly!

Several times he reminded us one of curiosity’s best friends: books. Don’t miss either his balanced explanation of open-mindedness.

This timely paperback helped me to be reminded of the value of curiosity and the riches of wonder. That’s worth much!

 

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

An All-Round Ministry by Spurgeon–A Beautiful Reprint! (Books on Ministry #23)

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What a beautiful reprint of a classic has Banner of Truth given us in this volume! What a wonderful book worthy of this first-rate presentation! This book has been reprinted repeatedly since it was put together after Spurgeon’s death from his passionate addresses to preachers and those training to be. This hardback, though, is the nicest I’ve ever seen. It’s the one you will want on your shelves—one that will last for years and can be passed on.

If you are not already familiar with this book, you should understand that it differs from his famous Lectures To My Students. That fine book is more practical about ministry and is something of a handbook. An All-Round Ministry is all feeling and fire. Spurgeon became more isolated among English Christian academia as liberal headwinds began shifting and strengthening in his day. For him, it was Christ, the Gospel, and souls! The Gospel had not lost its power and he gives one impassioned plea after another in this book for preachers to not become unmoored from what we were called to do by Christ.

Be sure to read the fine introduction by Iain Murray. He excels in this kind of writing and enriches what you are about to read from Spurgeon.

All twelve addresses strike at the preacher’s heart. All call for loyalty to Christ and zeal. A few of the later ones reflect the battles he endured regarding the Downgrade Movement, but all speak to our passing opportunities. This book contains the exact encouragement we all need from time to time! It’s an essential book for preachers.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

The Christian Book of Mystical Verse by Tozer

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This book intrigues me. If for no other reason, these poems, hymns, and prayers moved A. W. Tozer. When I think of what poured forth from his pen, and how it has moved my heart, I’m totally into whatever inspired Tozer.

When I first scoured these pages, I was immediately scolded. Not with a layer of guilt, but with a portion of conviction—I don’t slow down enough even when I read even from my own hymnbook. That deliberate, careful reading was one of Tozer’s secrets that he often tried to expose though usually without our cooperation. He always embraced the label “mystic” even after the term had some ugly baggage hoisted upon its back. The brief Introduction in this book makes the case that is more fully brought out in many of his other writings. Say what you will, but the person Tozer describes as a “mystic” walks with God.

Besides a few hymns (where reading slowly unlocks real treasure), the selections in this collection were unknown to me. Perhaps they aren’t all of equal lyrical value to the reader’s ear, but they are all rich. “Fluff” couldn’t describe any of them. Think more of strong doctrine going after the heart. Other sermons and books can handle the head. There are some expected authors like Wesley and Watts, or even Bernard of Clairvaux, but you’ll see that Tozer must have really loved Frederick William Faber too. And who would have thought of Oliver Wendall Holmes as a mystic!

Your favorites will be different than mine, but they’ll all be good. Look at this stanza from Watts:

Earth, from afar, hath heard Thy fame,

And worms have learned to lisp Thy Name;

But Oh the glories of Thy mind

Leave all our soaring thoughts behind.

 

Or this one by Faber:

O Lord! My heart is sick,

Sick of this everlasting change;

And life runs tediously quick

Through its unresting race and varied range:

Change finds no likeness to itself in Thee,

And wakes no echo in Thy mute Eternity.

 

There’s so much more! The poems are organized around important themes and you can come here for manna when you’re contemplating these subjects.

It’s Tozer. That’s enough to give it the highest rating. It’s his most unusual title and yet is of that same sterling quality. Probably the best book of its kind.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

A Mentor’s Wisdom by Moyer

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This is a special kind of book. It’s not hard to read. In fact, you may find it relaxing. By that I don’t mean it’s fluffy in any way, but that it’s reflective. Larry Moyer reflects on things he picked up from his mentor, Haddon Robinson, and it’s a journey that will likely help you reflect on your own life. If you happen to be a preacher like both the author and his subject, the scope of your ponderings will be even greater.

Admittedly, a book of this design would have little hope of success unless it had what this one does – a full-orbed life with Christ where both a deep immersion into the Bible and a life of trying with all its trial and error. Mr. Robinson is just such a man. Mr. Moyer had decades of interaction with Mr. Robinson and he was able to strike the perfect balance between admiration and reality.

Mr. Robinson has written some of the most influential books on preaching in print today. For that reason, he has an automatic respect by many preachers who will pick this book up and hear what he had to say. I suspect that even those who are not familiar with his writings will find respect easy to grant on these pages.

The book contains 45 statements that the author heard Mr. Robinson say at different points of their relationship. They range from the author’s school days all the way to Mr. Robertson’s last days. Mr. Moyer gives the background for when the statement was made and with additional insights that he had from their frequent association brings the statement alive. None of the statements or explanations ever came across as forced, trite, or corny. There’s even a Bible verse with every saying that matches what it’s trying to say. In a way, these sayings and their explanations were like devotionals throwing light back on the Bible.

The statements are arranged in categories with life lessons, work counsel, spiritual advice, public speaking and preaching, leadership, and evangelism. The advice ranges from broad help for life to detailed counsel. A preacher will carry away a few extra gems, but any Christian will receive thoughtful help. There were a few that I’ve heard people say that I now know they got from Mr. Robinson!

The author was real on these pages. At times he would describe how he initially struggled to accept what Dr. Robinson had said. There was inside to be gained and how his own wrestling’s brought him around to see things the same way Dr. Robinson did.

I liked all the sayings, but if I had to pick a favorite it would be number 9 (“time is your enemy. You must work to make it your friend”).  The Bible verse was Ecclesiastes 3:1. As I read that section, the thought struck me that there is enough time to do what God wants me to do.

This is not an academic book. This will be a book for you – your life, your spirituality, your heart. If you are like me, you know you need a few books like that along the way, and A Mentor’s Wisdom: Lessons I Learned from Haddon Robinson is just such a book.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.