- “An emaciated gospel leads to emaciated worship. It lowers our eyes from God to self and cheapens what God has accomplished for us in Christ. The biblical gospel, by contrast, is like fuel in the furnace of worship. The more you understand about it, believe it, and rely on it, the more you adore God both for who he is and for what he has done for us in Christ” (Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel, p. 21).
- “That I have rebelled against the holy and judging God who made me is not a happy thought. But it is an important one, because it paves the way for the good news” (30).
- “Nobody wants a God who declines to deal with evil. They just want a God who declines to deal with their evil” (44).
- “Since the very beginning of time, people have been trying to save themselves in ways that make sense to them, rather than listening and submitting to God” (102).
- “If we say merely that God is redeeming a people and remaking the world, but do not say how he is doing so (through the death and resurrection of Jesus) and how a person can be included in that redemption (through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus), then we have not proclaimed the good news. We have simply told the narrative of the Bible in broad outline” (107).
- “The message of the cross is going to sound like nonsense to the people around us. It’s going to make us Christians sound like fools, and it most certainly is going to undermine our attempts to ‘relate’ to non-Christians and prove to them that we’re just as cool and harmless as the next guy. Christians can always get the world to think they are cool—right up to the moment they start talking about being saved by a crucified man. And that’s where coolness evaporates, no matter how carefully you’ve cultivated it” (110).
- “Sins don’t shock us much. We know they are there, we see them in ourselves and others every day, and we’ve gotten pretty used to them. What is shocking to us is when God shows us the sin that runs to the very depths of our hearts, the deep-running deposits of filth and corruption that we never knew existed in us and that we ourselves could never expunge. That’s how the Bible talks about the depth and darkness of our sin—it is in us and of us, not just on us” (54).
- “It is only when we realize that our very nature is sinful—that we are indeed ‘dead in our trespasses and sins,’ as Paul says (Eph. 2:1, 5)—that we see just how good the news is that there is a way to be saved” (55).
- “Faith and repentance. That is what marks out those who are Christ’s people, or ‘Christians.’ In other words, a Christian is one who turns away from his sin and trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ—and nothing else—to save him from sin and the coming judgment” (73).
- “If you are a Christian, then the cross of Jesus stands like a mountain of granite across your life, immovably testifying to God’s love for you and his determination to bring you safely into his presence” (117).
Here are my 18 favorite* books I read in 2018 (in no particular order**):
- Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
- John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life
- Nancy Pearcey, Love Thy Body
- Zach Eswine, The Imperfect Pastor
- Darren Hardy, The Compound Effect
- Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
- Tony Dungy, The Mentor Leader
- D.A. Carson, Worship by the Book
- Brandon Sanderson, The Final Empire
- Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics
- Jackie Hill Perry, Gay Girl, Good God
- James D. Bradley, Flags of our Fathers
- Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals
- Brandon Sanderson, The Well of Ascension
- Jeff Christopherson, Kingdom First
- Debby Irving, Waking Up White
- Jonathan Grant, Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age
- Soong-Chan Rah, The Next Evangelicalism
And here are a few runner-ups…
Here are a few things I really appreciated from Eswine’s book:
1. Eswine points out that “We’ve grown reactive, consuming of others, and hasty, and all of this for God. This means that we are likely to mentor others into these qualities as well” (149). Sadly, I see this propensity in my own life. My thinking sometimes goes, go, go, accomplish, accomplish, accomplish. Eswine reminds me of the importance of embodied presence. Even when it seems less efficient.
2. I can be envious of other places and other people. When I read this from Eswine it convicted me: “Please forgive me. I have prayers to say for persons you’ve never heard of. I’d best get on with this good work of the day. You’d best get on with yours too” (145). How true! I’m abrogating my responsibilities when I’m envious of someone else’s responsibilities. I shouldn’t envy other people for the places they serve. And I shouldn’t envy others for the gifts they have either. I found this helpful to reflect on too: “Anything another minister does well becomes an occasion, not for our gratitude to God for the sake of the other minister and the cause of the gospel in our generation, but a reason for us to wring our hands and pressure ourselves because now we too must equal or better what that other minster can do” (145). This should not be so. I should rejoice at the gifts and abilities of others.
3. Eswine reminded me of the broken nature of all people, spiritual leaders included (Cf. 100-101). Noah had courage and faith as well as a lapse of drunkenness. Abraham is remembered and honored for his faith but he sometimes acted in selfish fear. Moses led courageously but he also murdered, shrank back in fear, and his bursts of anger cost him dearly. We sing songs that David pinned but we also read of the chaos he wrote. Jonah preached and many turned in repentance to God but Jonah raised his fists at grace. James and John were close to Jesus (and they wanted to be at His left and right hand), so close that Jesus gave them a nickname—“sons of thunder.” Paul teaches us and tells us of transforming grace, grace he himself experienced as an accomplice to the first Christian martyrdom. Peter boldly exalts Christ but he also repeatedly and cowardly denied him. We too are like the heroes of the faith. We are struggling saints and sinners.
4. I think this quote gets at one of the most helpful things in the book: “We cannot do everything that needs to be done, which means that Jesus will teach us to live with the things we can neither control nor fix. We will want to resist Jesus and act as if we are omnipotent, but we will harm others and ourselves when we try” (99). It is vital that I remember that “sickness, death, poverty, and the sin that bores into and infests the human being will not be removed on the basis of human effort, no matter how strong, godly, or wise the effort is” (97). I must humbly recall “There is nothing we can do in ministry that does not require God to act, if true fruit is to be produced (John 15:5). Everything pastors hope will take place in a person’s life with God remains outside the pastor’s own power” (97). These truths are humbling but they are true. They are also comforting. I don’t have to be the Lord, I can’t. I’m not. I need to repent of even trying. And I need to rely on and pray to God for help.
5. I grew up in a small poor town. And I left as soon as I saved up enough money to do so. I was nineteen. Yet, as Eswine says,“The Holy One of God has a hometown” (76). The Holy One of God inhabited a locality on earth. He limited Himself to a specific place at a specific time. And in many ways, His hometown was a small poor town. It’s wild and powerful to think about Jesus walking those streets and working as a carpenter. And He did so for thirty years. “Jesus had a world to save, injustice to confront, lepers to touch. Isn’t greatness for God squandered by years of obscurity? What business does a savior have learning the names of trees?” (77) I need to learn from Jesus. I need to be satisfied and faithful no matter the season. I need to remember that the poor small town that I grew up in is not insignificant. I also need to trust my Father’s will for my life, whatever that looks like.
1. “Our search for approval is over. In Christ, we already have all the approval we need” (Dave Harvey, Rescuing Ambition, p. 56).
2. “My search for approval is over. In Christ I already have all the approval I need.
Because Christ’s righteousness has been transferred to me, all the time and energy I once squandered trying to be liked or praised or to achieve something to validate my existence can now be re-directed toward doing things for God’s glory. I no longer live for approval; I live from approval” (Harvey, Rescuing Ambition, p. 56).
3. “God loves good ambition. It brings him glory as he works through our desires to fulfill his purpose. God doesn’t need us, but amazingly he uses us. But to position us for fruitfulness, he’s continually working in our lives, turning our desires toward his ends and developing our ambitions and accordance with his will” (p. 74-75).