Book Review: Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy

BLOG Dark Clouds

In Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, Mark Vroegop invites readers to learn how lament can be a pathway to God’s grace in the midst of life’s troubles. The author argues that lament is hardly discussed in Christian circles but this valuable tool can be vital to our spiritual growth if we use it wisely. Using laments found in the Bible along with his personal and ministry experience, Vroegop provides a roadmap of how lament can be redemptive and transforming. In the first part, the author explains how lament consists of four actions: turning to God, bringing your complaints to God, asking God boldly to intervene, and choosing to trust God. In illustrating how these four steps work, Vroegop analyzes each aspect through four different laments from the Psalter. In the second part, the author moves on to explain how we can learn from lament by focusing on four key lessons that can be drawn by viewing the entire book of Lamentations as one grand lament. The first lesson we learn is that sorrows are directly or indirectly the product of fallen creation tarnished by sin. When we lament, we are groaning with creation the tragic effects of the Fall and yearn for God to make things right. The second lesson is that hope is available because of what we know is true about God as found in the Bible. When the ground is shaky and despair grips our hearts, we find assurance in the one true God whose steadfast love never ceases. Moreover, the third lesson we learn from lament is how much we treasure our idols. Spiritual idolatry comes in a myriad of different forms, but tragedy often exposes how useless and fleeting are the pursuit of pleasures without God. The final lesson in Lamentations is finding grace in God alone as we pray for restoration and renewal in difficult circumstances. Lament points us to the gospel message of hope and victory in Christ as the One who took on our sins and made us right with God through His work on the cross. The third and final part of the book offers practical applications for how the language of lament can be rehearsed both personally and corporately. As a whole, the book is fairly practical as each chapter ends with reflection questions along with four appendixes that provide more material for the reader to engage lament in a biblical way.

I greatly recommend this book to all Christians as the language of lament is woefully absent in our vocabulary. Many of us are all too eager to nervously change the subject or offer shallow advice to sufferers around us so that any trace of sorrow is quickly dispelled. On the contrary, Vroegop suggests that lament can be a means of grace to guide us through the dark clouds that never seem to lift. In fact, the author points out that lament is useful even in the daily disappointments and challenges we face. When lament becomes part of the regular rhythm of our spiritual lives, we grow in maturity as we learn to adopt an eternal perspective to interpret unfavourable circumstances. Instead of allowing fear, anger, and worry to dominate our lives, our laments bring us to our Father whose love and mercy never ends. Moreover, our laments are testimonies of our hope in Jesus who showed His love for us by living through our difficulties and ultimately giving His life for our sake. Lament is not hopeless sorrow of what is wrong with life but hopeful proclamation of how God will one day make all grief, sorrow, and pain disappear when He returns to bring us home.

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


Book Review: Christ Has Set Us Free

BLOG Christ has set us free

In Christ Has Set Us Free, a group of notable pastor-scholars tackle the gospel issues that the apostle Paul presents in the book of Galatians. The book material is based on a series of messages delivered by most of the contributors along with some additional supplementary material to help provide greater context and cohesiveness. The first two chapters provide a framework for interpreting the epistle with a general introduction by Thomas Schreiner and a survey of how Reformers interpreted Galatians by Gerald Bray. The ensuing six chapters exposit the contents of the epistle in sequential order. John Piper begins in Galatians 1 in which Paul explains how his gospel is the one true gospel as given to him by Jesus Himself and that any other gospel is false. Next, Sandy Willson delves into Paul’s arguments in Galatians 2 on the sufficiency of Christ as our only means of salvation and how justification is by faith alone. The next chapter by Peter Adam focuses on Galatians 3 where Paul helps the believers recognize the deeper significance of the Old Testament laws and how it relates to God’s promises of a future new covenant that includes all peoples regardless of race, gender, or any other distinction. In addition, D.A. Carson further expounds how Paul in Galatians 4 urges believers to be free from slavery under sin by becoming slaves of Christ and righteousness. Next, Thabiti Anyabwile develops the topic of Christian freedom as found in Galatians 5 in which Paul warns against returning to the Mosaic law as a means of justification and encourages the believers to lay hold of Christian liberty through the work of the Spirit. For the last chapter of Galatians, Tim Keller examines how Paul urges the Galatians to not boast in themselves but to boast in Christ as the One who redeems and liberates us to enjoy true freedom in Christ. The final chapter of the book is by Sinclair Ferguson who gives a summary of how the epistle helps us navigate between legalism and antinomianism.

I gladly recommend this book to anyone who hopes to grasp the core messages of the book of Galatians. The contributors concentrate on explaining the most essential themes of the epistle without being entangled by scholarly arguments or hypothetical conjectures. The book of Galatians played a central role in shaping the Reformers’ rallying cry for believers to return to the true gospel and the authority of the Scriptures. The temptations to believe in alternate gospels, obey our fleshly desires, and earn our own justification are alive and well to believers today. When we fall into these temptations, we are re-enslaving ourselves when Christ has already set us free. Galatians reminds us that true freedom comes from putting on Christ and living in the power of the Spirit. When we do so, we are living according to the law of love which fulfills the entire law of God as summarized by Jesus in the first and second great commandments to love God and others.

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

Book Review: The Hand of God

BLOG The Hand of God

In The Hand of God, Alistair Begg walks readers through the events of Joseph’s life as a prime example of how God works all things for good despite the most difficult circumstances. Instead of delving into the contents of each chapter, three pertinent overarching lessons will be highlighted here. Firstly, Begg emphasizes the importance of godly character formation at an early age that gradually matures over the course of a lifetime. Despite being mistreated and sold as a young teenager, Joseph was undergirded by the theological heritage passed on down from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob so that he could respond with grace, perseverance, and integrity to adverse situations. For those of us who are parents and grandparents, we ought to focus our energies on teaching our posterity to walk in God’s ways so that they have a firm foundation to ground themselves in times of trouble. Secondly, godly patience and endurance are critical virtues of Christian maturity. Joseph’s life went through a series of ups and downs, but he never gave up hope that God would rescue him and waited patiently for that moment to arrive. We may also be subject to trials and tribulations that make us want to give up or find a convenient shortcut. However, just like Joseph, our assurance comes from our everlasting God who will carry us through each dark valley in His way and time. Thirdly, our earthly lives are pilgrimages of which heaven is our ultimate destination. Joseph made sure his descendants understood that God was going to fulfill His promises to their forefathers by asking that his body be brought with the Israelites out of Egypt when God eventually delivers them. Our short lifetimes here on earth are fleeting compared to the endless moments of eternity that we can look forward to spending before the presence of God. As such, we ought not be entangled by the cares of this world but to focus our eyes on the rich promises of God made available through Christ. As the book’s material is based on a series of sermons that the author preached, Begg expertly intertwines the gospel message in this study of Joseph’s life. Throughout the book, the author states how Joseph is a type of Christ as displayed in many instances of his life such as his suffering as a slave and prisoner, his triumph over temptations, and his forgiveness despite his brothers’ malice.

I recommend this book to all Christians who are in prolonged suffering and struggle to comprehend how God is working all things for their good. Begg encourages readers to find comfort and encouragement in the story of Joseph. In every moment of Joseph’s life, he was able to experience how God’s hands were always upon him in both the highs and the lows. What allowed Joseph to remain steadfast was his unswerving faith in God’s power and promises. Just like Joseph, we can be confident that every specific detail of our lives is within the sovereign will of our Father who cares for even sparrows. As those who are blessed with the complete revelation of God’s written Word, we have even greater assurance in knowing that God’s love and care for us is so great that He sent His Son to die for us. When the dark clouds of tribulation obstruct our vision, let us grasp the pierced hands of Jesus who will never let us go.

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

Book Review: Parenting with Words of Grace

BLOG Parenting with Words

In Parenting with Words of Grace, William Smith urges parents to use words wisely to grow their relationships with their children. Smith explains how our mouth is the primary instrument by which we interact with God and those around us. As such, the words we choose to utter need to be carefully balanced with truth and love. Furthermore, Smith reminds parents that their role is to represent God in responding to their children when they walk in godliness or fall into sinfulness. Each conversation’s aim is to enable our kids to recognize their sinful hearts and their need for a Saviour. The author agrees that using our words intentionally to build up our children is hard work that takes much effort and time. However, our motivation and encouragement come from God who never grows weary in seeking us and giving us more grace when we ourselves fail. Moreover, the author warns parents against simply pursuing behavioural change as such change is not enduring. Rather, we should look to guide our children in experiencing and responding to God’s grace which is truly transformational. Parents ought to be quick in dispensing encouragement by identifying God’s work in their children’s lives and purposefully aiding their children to grow in areas where they are lacking. Conversely, parents ought not to speak hurtful, demeaning words that tear down the child’s spirit and cast God in a negative light. This does not mean that parents should avoid confronting their children’s disobedience. However, this is done not by using harsh words to guilt or shame the child but by acting as a mirror to help the child perceive the situation accurately. In doing so, we are not trying to impose our own selfish ways on how we think the child should act but to shed light on the situation and provide guidance on how to respond in a God-honouring way. In speaking honestly with our children, we are showing them that we care about them and that we ourselves also need the Spirit’s power to grow in godliness.

I gladly recommend this book to Christian parents who feel challenged in using their words to build up their children. Indeed, the same principles that Smith offers to parents would be applicable to all Christian who want to grow in the gospel. As much as we feel that we are more spiritually advanced than our children, our shared need for Jesus to help us defeat sin and live in holiness is identical. Smith reminds us that parents are not trying to grow miniature versions of themselves but to nurture their children into becoming godly image-bearers who will eventually become their spiritual peers. Thus, parents and their children are walking together to experience the forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love that God bountifully lavishes upon us through His Son. Our daily conversations with our kids are invitations for them to run to our Saviour who always speaks truth to us through His Spirit and His Word.

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

Crabtree on Affirming Wisely

“We must leave room in our thinking for the possibility of being pleased with someone, yet without being satisfied entirely. We commend the first faltering steps of the toddler without abandoning hope he’ll someday pole-vault. We commend the first successful day of going without cigarettes while still hoping for a complete break. We commend improvement without settling for mediocrity, applauding incremental progress without confusing it with perfection. To praise someone doesn’t mean we have to give up our desire that they make even greater strides. God himself treats us this way. “Good job with five talents. Now try ten. No, eleven.”

Sam Crabtree in Practicing Affirmation