Book Review: Unlimited Grace

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In Unlimited Grace, Bryan Chapell focuses on what grace is and how our lives are transformed and sustained by grace. The author asserts that grace is what transforms our heart’s affections so that we can willingly obey God’s commands. This heart change first begins when we receive the gospel as sinners as we realize our inability to approach God who is infinitely holy. Moreover, grace does not cease after conversion but continues to sustain Christians in their walk with God as they recognize that their standing before Him is only possible through the unmerited grace lavished upon us in the person and work of Christ. Chapell constantly reminds readers that the good works that we do are not to convince God or ourselves that we are worthy of grace. Instead, works are the natural effects of living a grace-saturated life as our regenerated hearts yearn to follow God’s ways. Chapell suggests provocatively that even repentance is not meant to regain God’s forgiveness as we are already assured at the cross that all sins have been forgiven. Rather, repentance is to restore the strained relationship between us and God. An analogy is the painful disconnect that occurs between parents and their disobedient children. However, parents never hesitate to embrace their children when they repent from their former ways and seek forgiveness. There never was a change in the nature of the relationship but what was tarnished by sin was the sweetness and enjoyment of the intimate relationship. The book is divided into three parts with the first portion examining how grace changes the way we live, the second portion focusing on evidences of grace found throughout the Bible, and the last part answering key questions on what a grace-filled life should look like. Chapell’s writing is filled with pastoral insight and those who are in leadership roles will find his suggestions on how to preach and teach grace to be especially helpful.

I would recommend this book to all Christians as the message of grace has often been distorted since the days of the early church. Chapell argues against those who promote antinomianism as not fully understanding the profound effect that grace has on producing godly affections. On the other hand, the author also warns against the dangers of legalism as a method of gaining more grace. Instead, believers must realize that without grace, we are unable and unwilling to submit to God in obedience. Moreover, the good works that we do are only possible through grace that produces heart change thereby enabling us to grow a deep love for God and His ways. Furthermore, legalism is denying the very essence of grace in suggesting that we need to work harder to earn more of it. On the contrary, grace flows freely from God to us through Christ who heaps grace on us who are utterly dependent on Him. May we learn to seek and cherish the unlimited grace that is found in Christ who gave Himself for us so that we can live in and for Him.

In compliance with Federal Trade Commission regulations, I was provided a free review copy of this book from Crossway.

Book Review: 8 Simple Tools for Raising Great Kids

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In 8 Simple Tools for Raising Great Kids, Todd Cartmell focuses on eight areas which parents need to be aware of as they interact with their kids daily. Each of the eight areas is comprised of five small chapters which illustrate how parents can practice these tools effectively. Those who have read many parenting books will be familiar with most of the concepts that Cartmell discusses such as choosing right words to encourage children towards positive behaviour and spending quality time together by learning a new instrument or sport. The author begins each chapter with a personal example or illustration before explaining how parents can pragmatically utilize the tool in their own households. At the end of each chapter, there is a short summary paragraph and reflection questions to help parents consider how to implement those changes. One of the book’s analogies that were especially helpful to me is to view our children as little gold mines. The author asserts that most parents spend much of their time noticing the “dirt” (negative words, actions, and attitudes) instead of spotting the small specks of gold (positive words, actions, and attitudes) in each child. However, if we change our focus to dig for gold instead of feeling defeated in trying to clear up the dirt, we will gradually begin to see and dig for more and more gold. Cartmell emphasizes that the analogy is not intended to mean parents should refrain from correcting or disciplining their children. Rather, parents should place their focus on what God is doing in the hearts of their children and see how they can continue to help these positive traits and behaviours blossom. As a whole, the book is fairly accessible with many useful strategies for parents to employ in helping their children grow and mature into responsible followers of Christ.

A weakness that I found with the book’s overall message is that it fails to acknowledge those parents who do use the right tools but still have kids who remain obnoxious and unyielding. Being sinners ourselves, we know that the rebelliousness of our children lies in the depravity of their sinful hearts and even using the most proven parenting techniques will not cause that sinful heart to respond in obedience permanently. At best, we end up raising a child who is superficially obedient and will quickly turn from God’s ways once they reach adulthood.  Thus, the most vital tool to the transformation of our children’s hearts is to be found in Christ who is the only One that can redeem and recreate a new heart willing to submit to God and their parents as His ordained stewards. Naturally, younger children and toddlers would require more intentional instruction and discipline until they have the capacity to understand their heart’s sinful disposition. However, the gospel is not only for adults and even infants should be taught that the only hope they have is found in Jesus alone.

I would recommend this book to all parents as the author provides valuable advice on how to approach parenting with small, implementable steps. Parents need to be prepared and equipped to take advantage of any opportunity to nurture their children. However, despite our best efforts, we need to keep in mind that true heart change can only take place through the renewing power of the Holy Spirit which indwells each of us who put our faith in Jesus. As parents, our first priority is to display and preach the gospel to our children so that they can see Christ as the answer to their unyielding hearts.

In compliance with Federal Trade Commission guidelines, I received a review copy from Moody Press in exchange for a book review.

 

Book Review: Starting Over

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In Starting Over, Dave Ferguson and John Ferguson examine the topic of regret and how we can overcome and learn from our past regrets. The authors first introduce readers to what they define as the “Sorry Cycle” which is where one falls into continuous despair and hopelessness due to their past action, inaction, and reaction to life’s events. Most of us can easily recount a handful of experiences that we wish had not happened or that we could go back and change. However, the authors assert that if we incessantly dwell on these regrets, we become entrenched by our fear and remorse. To make this point, the book is packed with many examples of individuals who have wasted many years drowning in the guilt and shame of their past choices. In order to break away from this cycle, the book outlines three steps which are to recognize, release, and redeem. In the first step, one is to recognize regret for what it is and accept what has transpired as being part of one’s life experiences. In the second step, one is to release those regrets through forgiving those who dispensed the hurt or seeking forgiveness from those who received the hurt. The last step is to redeem those regrets by acting in a new way that would prevent oneself from falling into similar regrets in the future. The chapters detail different types of regret and provide concrete steps on how to follow through with these three steps.

However, one concern that I have is that the authors focused on providing practical solutions without addressing the ultimate source of our entrenched feelings of regret which is our selfishness and sinful nature. Not all regrets are products of sin but those that we hold most tightly are often tied to our sinful hearts. The authors do mention repentance and forgiveness for all parties involved and emphasize that one needs to seek God. However, it seemed that Christ is more of a backdrop throughout the book and seen as one of the tools to help foster positive change. Conversely, I argue that Christ should be central to both freeing us from our past guilt and transforming it for His glory. We can take many practical steps to put ourselves in a better position to succeed and avoid feelings of guilt and shame. But the most critical issue is that we need to humble ourselves and give our lives to Christ who not only provides salvation but also empowers us to live for Him. Regrets do not merely show us that we live in a fallen world and that we need to do better. Rather, regrets remind us of our utter dependence on Christ and the grace that He gives us to live transformed lives.

I would recommend this book to those who are struggling in their past regrets. The authors point out correctly that regrets should not keep us paralyzed in fear and inaction. Furthermore, regret in itself is not to be frowned upon but can be opportunities to change how we live. Moreover, the book offers many helpful recommendations on how to move on and not repeat those regrets. More importantly, I urge readers to cling to Christ as the One who can transform our sinful hearts to repent and live for His glory alone. Christ is not only the starting point to living redeemed lives but is the overarching source of power, grace, and mercy to sustain us as we commit each day to Him.

In compliance with Federal Trade Commission guidelines, I received a review copy from The Crown Publishing Group in exchange for a book review.

 

Martin on Entitlement

“The problem with entitlement is that it robs us of the gospel, which tells us that Jesus, the only deserving person who ever lived, gave up His rights by dying for people who thought they deserved everything. The only thing we are entitled to is wrath.”

Ronnie Martin in The Bride(zilla) of Christ

 

Crump on Unity in Christ

“In Christ there is a new humanity, a new community, where our identity is defined by the calling of the cross. In Christ the ruling paradigm is that there is no separation; we must, in fact, move beyond integration. And if you think for a second this means we should all just become the same, think again. This is not some attempt at assimilation or manufactured community. The gospel unites us in Christ despite our differences. In fact, the gospel drives us to celebrate our differences as the diversity-strewn beauty from the Lord’s creative hand. And if that is true, then what distinction can we make? Who are our people, our kind? How can we be united in Christ but divided in His family? Living that way would be a mockery of the gospel.”

Léonce Crump in Renovate