Categories
Christian God the Father Jesus The Holy Spirit

BOOK REVIEW: FREE TO THRIVE — How Your Hurts, Struggles, and Deepest Longings Can Lead to a Fulfilling Life 

by Josh McDowell and Ben Bennett (Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2021)

The authors, well-known author and apologist Josh McDowell, and pastor and speaker Ben Bennett have joined forces to examine why so many Christians struggle through life rather than thrive as children of God. Due to their own experiences and their years of ministry, they believe most believers are suffering due to unmet needs in their lives.

McDowell and Bennett make the case that God has designed all people with seven basic needs:

  1. Acceptance — to be included and approved of, as you are, no matter what.
  2. Appreciation — the longing to be thanked and encouraged for something we have done.
  3. Affection — the longing to be cared for with touch and genuine emotional engagement.
  4. Access — the longing to have the consistent emotional and physical presence of key persons.
  5. Attention — the longing to be known and understood by someone who enters into your world.
  6. Affirmation of feelings — the longing to have our feelings validated and confirmed by others.
  7. Assurance of safety — we need to feel protected and provided for emotionally, physically, and financially.

The authors contend that hurting Christians with unfulfilled longings suffer because they try to satisfy those longings themselves or with other earthly things or people. But God placed those longings in us so that we might always go to Him with our needs.

McDowell and Bennett are unusually open and honest in sharing their own unmet longings and the adverse effects those had in their personal lives and ministries. Writing as fellow strugglers, they encourage readers to understand that they are not unusual in trying to satisfy their longings without God and give practical steps to begin looking to God for help and comfort. The book concludes with helpful appendices of the Longings Table and websites and books for further ongoing support. I heartily recommend this book.

Categories
Bible Christian Prayer

BOOK REVIEW: WHEN PRAYER IS A STRUGGLE: A Practical Guide for Overcoming Obstacles in Prayer by Kevin P. Halloran (P & R Publishing; 2021)

Minister, author, and blogger Kevin Halloran has written an eminently helpful and encouraging book on how to handle the most common difficulties with prayer. He covers prayer problems such as being at a loss of what to pray, being hindered by guilt or shame, unable to focus, being too stressed or too busy. Halloran writes on nine of the most common obstacles to prayer reported by laymen and clergy alike as a fellow struggling pray-er so that the reader does not feel either belittled or unusual for needing assistance in developing a healthy and consistent prayer life.

The author begins the book by demonstrating through Scripture why prayer is essential, and the benefits to every believer for persevering through the difficulties often found in praying to God in any kind of meaningful and fulfilling manner. Readers will probably recognize themselves in more than just one of the difficulty areas described and are encouraged to skip around if they wish. Each of the chapters provides doable action plans that are thankfully not very complicated. At the back of the book, Halloran offers a listing of psalms to pray grouped by topic and verses to find the prayers of the Apostle Paul. Finally, he lists many recommended books for those who want to go deeper into the subject of prayer. This is one of the most practical and approachable books on prayer I have read. I highly recommend it!

Categories
Bible Christian

How to Receive God’s Blessings and How to Give Out God’s Blessings

Double Blessing: How to Get It. How to Give It by Mark Batterson (Multnomah/Random House; 2019)

This is the latest book by Pastor Mark Batterson, who has written several bestsellers, such as The Circle Maker, Chase the Lion, and Whisper.  As evidenced by the title, this book is about blessing — both the kind that we receive from God and the kind believers can pass on to others. Starting with the premise that blessing is God’s default nature toward us, Batterson splits the book into two parts — to describe what the blessing of God is and how we can perceive and receive His blessings. And the second part hammers home the real point of this book: That blessings are lavishly given to believers as God’s children, but after receiving blessings, we are to take our blessings and use them to bless others.

In the first section, the author starts with the story of Elijah and Elisha, and how Elisha had the audacity (and faith!) to ask for a double portion of the blessing that Elijah had received from God. And then he was granted his request by God and did many mighty and gracious blessings to people inside and even outside ancient Israel. From here, Batterson takes readers on a quick journey through the Old and New Testaments to highlight how the blessings of God are a thread found throughout Scripture. Batterson offers a beneficial description of how to think about God’s blessings — “Blessings are like an umbrella. An umbrella doesn’t change the forecast. Life will rain pain…But the blessing of God does provide covering of sorts, an extra layer of protection from the elements.”

The author then goes on in the rest of this first section with a word study of the meanings and applications for the Hebrew word for “blessing,” along with providing examples of characters in the Bible — like Jacob and Zerubbabel; and historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and Charles Spurgeon. He chose these characters to illustrate that blessings from God do not deliver us from all evil, for all of these men suffered in some catastrophic ways in their lives, but the blessings came later after wisdom and faith were matured through these difficulties.

In Part Two, Batterson focuses on our giving of blessings to others. He summarizes that this way: “God has blessings for us in categories we cannot even conceive of. [And]… it is our job to steward those blessings by flipping them for others!” So, using examples from the founding of his church in Washington, DC — National Community Church — as well as stories and applications drawn from real-life events and biographies (along with neat scientific facts and trivia, which I find fascinating), Batterson shows how God means for His blessings to us are to be given for the sake of others. The author impresses on his readers that as we learn to grow in gratitude from the blessings we have received, God will also enable us to become more generous in giving to others in three categories — time, talents, and treasure.

Batterson’s writing is sincere and positive, and his lessons and encouragements are both engaging and entertaining. In reading this book, I certainly learned a lot about God’s desire to bless, what blessings really are, and how to maximize our blessings by sharing them with others. And as we do so, God blesses even more! I highly recommend this book!

Categories
Bible Christian God the Father Jesus The Holy Spirit Walking with Christ

How to Attain a Transcendent Faith Even in a Disenchanted World

Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World by Mike Cosper (IVP Books; 2017)

Recapturing the Wonder by Mike Cosper tackles the very real difficulties that Christians in the West face to try to connect with and commune with a transcendent God, while all the world around us screams that there is no God or no better place other than the broken and disenchanted world all around us. Cooper makes a point of discussing the “disenchantment” of society in the West in anything outside our sense experiences, and that there is no absolute truth, and nothing to hope for after one dies. While fully and honestly admitting that life is very hard —- even for Christians (no “name it and claim it”) —- still, God’s grace can be easy at times to appropriate. This is the aim of Cosper’s book.

After a brief review of our post-modern and materialistic society and its impact on all people, including Christians, the author quickly launches into what he calls “pathways” to regaining our enchantment for the world around us, as well as the spiritual realm which is actually more real than what we can see and experience with our five senses.

The pathways that Cosper fleshes out are: One —- Re-enchanting Our World; Two —- Experiencing Grace; Three —- Bringing Scripture to Life; Four —- Withdrawing With God; Five —- Practicing Abundance; Six —- Throwing a Feast; and Seven —- Writing a Rule of Life. Cosper writes not as an expert in mastering these pathways, but rather as a fellow struggler who is learning how to live a transcendent life through wrestling with God, like Jacob did in the Old Testament. I believe a vast majority of believers struggle mightily in this area of living as God being the most real Person and true reality, and would greatly benefit from a book like this one. Highly recommended!

Categories
Bible Christian

We Can Learn to Love the Psalms

Learning to Love the Psalms by W. Robert Godfrey (Reformation Trust Publishing; 2017)

In this most enlightening and informative book on the Psalms. Godfrey laments the fact that this vital part of holy Scripture which played such an important role in the life of the Jewish community for thousands of years, as well as for the Christian church for almost 1800 years has now fallen into a theological corner. In this book, Godfrey hopes to spark a new interest in the use the Psalter, both in corporate worship services, and in the personal devotions and prayers of believers everywhere.

Learning to Love the Psalms is neither a commentary or a devotional —- technically speaking. Yet the author both explains the occasions and use of the Psalms in ancient Israel —- like a commentary; but also shows how the theme of each psalm discussed can be used as a devotional and as a springboard to prayer and communion with the Father.

Godfrey describes the make-up and apparent theme and aim of each of the five Books that make up the Psalms in our Bibles today. After that description, the author details more of the interesting facts behind the psalms described (over 80 in all), how they tie into the overall theme of the Book in which they are found, and how modern-Christians can better understand and make more practical and spiritual lessons contained in each psalm. The book is written in a clear and entertaining manner, making it very accessible to the general reader; but with enough theological and expository insight to be very useful for pastors. Most highly recommended!

Categories
Bible Christian

A Christian Understanding of What Makes You You

WHO GOD SAYS YOU ARE by Klyne Snodgrass (Eerdmans Publishing Co.; 2018) covers a topic that sounds overwhelming and intimidating, but is rather an important core issue for every human – identity.  By “identity,” Snodgrass means what “makes me me;” and since we all have a divine Creator Who made us the people we are for some distinct purposes, there can be no more important question for anyone to answer, but especially Christians.  “Why did God make me like this, and does my life reflect who I really am?”  But rather than a stuffy anthropological or philosophical treatise, Snodgrass does a wonderful job of demonstrating and explaining this issue in compelling and inviting ways.

After establishing the fact that only Christians have the ability to truly understand themselves – as opposed to all non-Christians – because we know our Maker; then the meat of the book discourses on nine factors the author says comprise the total makeup of our true identities.  Quickly, those factors are:  Our body; our history; our relations (and relationships); our self-interpreting of our memories; our chosen commitments; our actions; our boundaries; our ongoing change in temperament and styles of living; and the future we see for ourselves.  The theme and goal of this timely book when “identity” is in so much confusion in the world, is that we can only truly understand ourselves by understanding the God Who not only created us, but loves us.  Highly recommended.

Categories
Christian God the Father Jesus The Holy Spirit

Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together

BOOK REVIEW

THE IMPERFECT DISCIPLE by Jared C. Wilson ( Baker Books; 2017)

This book is about discipleship but takes a different approach from most Christian books on this subject. The typical book by a pastor or Bible teacher who wants to explain how the Bible defines discipleship and how a person can become wholly sold out to Jesus — like the author! But this book is written by a former pastor who had to give up his pastorate due to stress, depression, and burnout. And he sets the goal for himself to write a book that encourages the average Christian who is trying to walk with Jesus while raising kids, going to school, and working long hours at a job that they are not exactly crazy about.

Wilson accomplishes this goal by openly admitting how messed up and thoroughly ordinary he is. He is no kind of example for other believers to follow. But this is the point, because until a believer is honest enough to admit how hopeless they are in trying to walk like Jesus on their own skills and willpower, the sooner they will be able to recognize the extraordinary grace found in the gospel. The author makes an interesting point that our Christian lives can be summed up in Romans 7 and 8 — that we fail in our sins daily, but God has given us the Holy Spirit as a down payment of His intention to cause us to become like Christ through the efforts of the Spirit. And that God will not give up on us until we become glorified in heaven with Jesus and all of our spiritual brothers and sisters.

Wilson writes in a humorous and passionate style that is both engaging and encouraging. And he does a beautiful job in showing how spectacular and amazing God’s grace and love are and that any believer can live in confidence that by being a follower of Christ — even one who constantly stumbles — they are greatly loved and cared for by our heavenly Father. Highly recommended!

Categories
Bible

LEARNING TO LOVE THE PSALMS: Book Review

Learning to Love the Psalms by W. Robert Godfrey (Reformation Trust Publishing; 2017)

In this most enlightening and informative book on the Psalms. Godfrey laments the fact that this vital part of holy Scripture which played such an important role in the life of the Jewish community for thousands of years, as well as for the Christian church for almost 1800 years has now fallen into a theological corner. In this book, Godfrey hopes to spark a new interest in the use the Psalter, both in corporate worship services, and in the personal devotions and prayers of believers everywhere.

Learning to Love the Psalms is neither a commentary or a devotional —- technically speaking. Yet the author both explains the occasions and use of the Psalms in ancient Israel —- like a commentary; but also shows how the theme of each psalm discussed can be used as a devotional and as a springboard to prayer and communion with the Father.

Godfrey describes the make-up and apparent theme and aim of each of the five Books that make up the Psalms in our Bibles today. After that description, the author details more of the interesting facts behind the psalms described (over 80 in all), how they tie into the overall theme of the Book in which they are found, and how modern-Christians can better understand and make more practical and spiritual lessons contained in each psalm. The book is written in a clear and entertaining manner, making it very accessible to the general reader; but with enough theological and expository insight to be very useful for pastors. Most highly recommended!