- “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).
I really enjoyed reading Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret. You should read it. Here are some observations from my reading…
Summary of the book: Trust. Trust and unreserved commitment to the Lord is how I would summarize Hudson Taylor and this book. Before he went to China he said: “‘I shall have no claim on anyone for anything. My only claim will be on God. How important to learn, before leaving England, to move man, through God, by prayer alone'” (33). And that’s what we see happen. He learned to trust God alone. He trusted God even with his children. He said, “‘I find it impossible to think that our heavenly Father is less tender and mindful of His children than I, a poor earthly father, am of mine. No, He will not forget us!'” (125). And in dark days, God enabled Taylor to say: “The battle is the Lord’s, and He will conquer. We may fail—do fail continually—but He never fails” (p. 154).
Insights from the book:
- The impact that one person can have is tremendous when they trust the Lord and have an unreserved commitment to do His will (cite the number of believers in China now, p. 12).
- “We want, we need, we may have, Hudson Taylor’s secret and his success, for we have Hudson Taylor’s Bible and his God” (p. 16). That is such a good reminder. The same God that brought Israel out of Egypt, rose Jesus from the dead, and provided for Hudson Taylor is the same God who is Lord of all now.
- Hudson Taylor wore Chinese clothes even though this was unprecedented and looked down upon by some (cf. e.g. p. 65). This is an important reminder that God and His Word must govern us, not the expectations of others.
- Hudson Taylor had “the Lord’s own yearning of heart over the lost and perishing” (19 cf. p. 32, 112). “We may have more wealth in these days, better education, greater comfort in traveling and in our surroundings even as missionaries, but have we the spirit of urgency, the deep, inward convictions that moved those that went before us; have we the same passion of love, personal love for the Lord Christ? If these are lacking, it is a loss for which nothing can compensate” (p. 127). This reminds me that I need (God help me!) to develop at heart for the lost and love and passion for the Lord Jesus Christ who is their only hope.
- “It was not easy to keep first things first and make time for prayer. Yet without this there cannot but be failure and unrest” (p. 22). Prayer and delighting myself in God is vital.
- “The One Great Circumstance of Life, and of all lesser, external circumstances as necessarily the kindest, wisest, best, because either ordered or permitted by Him” (p. 79). I need to have a bigger view of God. This is vital in part because “The secret of faith that is ready for emergencies is the quiet, practical dependence upon God day by day which makes Him real to the believing heart” (p. 100).
- “’My father sought the Truth,’ he continued sadly, ‘and died without finding it. Oh, why did you not come sooner?’” (p. 95). This quote reminds me of the absolute importance of heralds going to share the good news of Jesus.
- “In these days of easy-going Christianity, is it not well to remind ourselves that it really does cost to be a man or woman whom God can use? One cannot obtain a Christlike work save at great price” (p. 27). This quote—and Hudson Taylor’s life—reminds me and reinvigorates me to seek hard after the Lord.
- “How then to have our faith increased? Only by thinking of all that Jesus is and all He is for us: His life, His death, His work, He Himself as revealed to us in the Word, to be the subject of our constant thoughts. Not a striving to have faith… but a looking off to the Faithful One seems all we need; a resting in the Loved One entirely, for time and for eternity” (p. 158). This quote answers a very important question. How to have more faith? Meditate on Jesus!
- “If God should place me in a serious perplexity, must He not give me much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength? No fear that His resources are mine, for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me” (p. 165). This is a good reminder that whatever I face, God will be there with me as my ever-present, every-ready, and all-powerful help.
- I need to trust the God who is simultaneously the Lord of the universe and my Father.
- I need to faithfully pray in reliance and desperation to the One who is Lord and Father.
- I need to renew my commitment to spend and be spent for the Lord. I need to renew my commitment to discipline myself for the sake of godliness.
- I need to meditate more on Jesus (His person and work).
- I need to trust that God can use one poor and needy sinner such as I to accomplish great things for His glory.
- I need to develop more of a heart for those who are without hope and without God in the world.
- I need to keep first things first and seek God above all things—even good, healthy, and productive things.
- I need to remember that whatever challenges are in front of me God’s grace is sufficient. God is all-powerful and He is with me. He is my Father!
 Taylor says, “I was enabled by His grace to trust in Him, He has always appeared for my help” (p. 153).
I found Gary Thomas’ book The Sacred Search helpful. He deals with some very relevant issues. I think every person in a dating relationship should read it and I think every single person should read it. Here are some quotes from the book to get you interested:
1. “I want to make a promise to you: if you will seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness and let that agenda drive your decision regarding whom you choose to marry and refuse to compromise on that, you will set yourself up for a much more fulfilling, spiritually enriching, and overall more satisfying marriage. The degree to which you compromise on this verse is the degree to which you put your future satisfaction in jeopardy and open wide the door to great frustration and even regret” (Gary Thomas, The Sacred Search, 22).
2. “Guys… are more inclined to experience romantic love with women they are attracted to physically, yet physical appearance is the thing most likely to change in a person’s life. Marriage isn’t about being young together; it’s about growing old together—and bodies change as we get older. If you don’t marry with that in mind, you’re going to make a major mistake—perhaps the biggest mistake of your life” (Thomas, The Sacred Search, 25). “What launches sexual chemistry won’t sustain sexual chemistry” (p. 47).
3. “The way God made our brains, infatuation resembles an hourglass. The moment you become smitten by someone—the second you find yourself deeply “in love”—is the moment that hourglass gets turned over. There is enough sand in that hourglass, on average, to last you about twelve to eighteen months” (p. 29).
4. “I don’t want to diminish the mystery and poetry of a truly delicious romantic attachment and “soul connection,” but in reality you’re living through a fairly predictable and observable neurochemical reaction. And here’s something you need to know: the state of infatuation actually impedes your ability to objectively discern your partner’s faults and weaknesses. Dr. Thomas Lewis put it this way: “Love may not be literally blind, but it does seem to be literally incapable of reason and the levels of appropriate negativity necessary for realism” (pp. 32-33).
5. “Sin, by definition, is overturning God’s created order. In God’s created order, there should be no sex outside of marriage, and lots of fulfilling, generous sex during marriage. Why do you think a person will disobey God in the first instance, but obey Him in the second? Doesn’t it make sense that if you shut out God to do what you want to do in one season, you’ll keep doing it in the next season?” (p. 48)
6. “This might shock you, but your best chance at sexual satisfaction in marriage is not to focus on appearance alone, but rather to find a woman of virtue” (p. 49).
7. “Time serves intentionally cultivated intimate affection, even as it kills infatuation” (p. 51).
8. “The language of the Bible doesn’t suggest there is one right choice for marriage. Rather, all the teaching passages seem to suggest that there are wise and unwise choices. We are encouraged to use wisdom, not destiny, as our guide when choosing a marital partner” (p. 61).
9. “Some Christians find themselves in a dating dead end. There’s no one suitable where they work or at their church. For their own reasons, they refuse to look at any online dating sites. Instead of putting themselves in social environments where they might find someone, they start to feel bitter and angry and blame God for not bringing the right one along” (pp. 79-80). Later on he asks, “Are you putting yourself in places where you can find or be found? Do you hang out in places where the kind of person you want to marry hangs out?” (p. 80). So, “Instead of simply ‘waiting for God to bring the right one,’ go out and find a godly mate” (p. 81).
10. “A spiritual sole mate is someone who is passionately committed to getting married for the glory of God first and foremost” (p. 94).
11. “If you marry for money, health, or looks, keep in mind that none of these are certain to remain. Character is the surest thing. Even if the two of you manage to avoid a medical maelstrom, the vast majority of you will have to navigate something else that will test you to your core: having children. Does the person you’re planning on marrying have what it takes in this regard? Are they strong enough not just to be your spouse, but to be your children’s mom or dad?” (p. 119).
12. “Intimacy is built through sharing, listening, understanding, and talking through issues. If someone doesn’t like to talk, refuses to talk, or resents your desire to talk, intimacy building is going to hit a stone wall” (p. 141).
13. “The general rule is this: however much your boyfriend talks to you while dating, cut that down by at least 25 percent after marriage. If you’re not good with that, you’re looking at the wrong guy. I’m not saying it should be that way, only that it almost always is. Talk to married women; ask them if this isn’t true. Make your choice accordingly” (pp. 141-42).
14. “The person you marry is the person you’re going to be married to” (p. 160).
15. “When we live for ourselves, we become boring. Most of us are simply not interesting enough on our own to captivate someone else for five or six decades” (p. 174).
16. “When we sin sexually we are literally launching a neurochemical war against our mental reasoning” (p. 187).17. “Sex is a powerful tool. In a healthy marriage, used appropriately, it can be nothing short of glorious. As people who believe God is the Creator of our bodies and our sexuality, we should be eager to embrace His good handiwork. But know this: the more powerful the tool, the more training and caution you need when learning to use it” (p. 201).18. “If you’ve caught the vision for a marriage that seeks first the kingdom of God, you need to be on the lookout for personality traits that will undermine such a focus” (p. 203).
19. “Guys, if you marry a woman who is motivated by reverence for God over affection for you, she’ll learn to be kind to you and affectionate toward you even when she doesn’t feel like it and when you’re acting like a jerk. The same thing that feeds her chastity—love and respect for God—will feed sexual enthusiasm within marriage. The same thing that feeds promiscuity before marriage—selfishness and fear—will kill sexual desire after marriage” (pp. 210-11).20. “Sex can indeed be amazing. It’s also a skill that can be learned, and that’s what marriage allows, so if the two of you aren’t “compatible” on your wedding night, you have a lifetime to get there.Two people who genuinely care for each other and who are growing in the virtues of kindness and generosity will figure out, sooner rather than later, how to please and keep on pleasing each other” (p. 187).