Wilkin on Obedience and Fear of God

“Both the ideas of obedience and fear of God have fallen out of favor in many Christian circles. He is often celebrated as loving Father, but rarely as just judge. The God of our modern invention does not require obedience, nor does he require our reverence. He wants only our acceptance of his gracious invitation to relationship and our enjoyment of his love. He is a God who is near and approachable, but he has lost all traces of the transcendence ascribed to him in the Scriptures. Peter reminds his hearers that the God who has condescended to them through Christ is both a personal, loving Father and an impartial judge of the hearts of men (1:17). Such a God is worthy of not just our adoration but our reverent fear. We do not fear him as the pagan should, but we revere him as those who recognize we deserved what the pagan will receive and were spared because of no merit of our own. We do not cower as those who gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai, but we offer profound awe and respect as those who gather at the foot of Mount Zion.”

Jen Wilkin in Resurrection Life in a World of Suffering

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Book Review: Start with the Heart

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In Start with the Heart, Kathy Koch urges parents to address their children’s hearts instead of focusing on mere behaviour modification. Koch argues that what motivates children to change is rooted in the heart of the child thus parents ought to concentrate on taking steps to help develop their children’s character. The author points out the many important implications of having strong character and places special emphasis on how character breeds resiliency in responding positively to failures. Koch then explains how the biblical commands to put off what is sinful and to put on what is righteous are the key elements of transforming one’s character. Furthermore, the author highlights how parenting involves shaping the five core needs of children namely identity, belonging, security, purpose, and competence. In Chapter 5, Koch focus on discovering what is important in the eyes of our children and steps to aiding the child in learning activities that resonates with those values. Chapter 6 concludes the first part of the book by reminding parents on how to use their various roles as coach, referee, teacher, and cheerleader at the right moments to journey with their children towards maturity. In the latter half of the book, the author provides practical advice on how to foster character in our daily interactions. Chapter 7 involves learning how to communicate with children in ways that are positive, enthusiastic, optimistic, and encouraging. Chapter 8 discusses the importance of listening carefully so that our responses trigger the child to change through their own words and actions. In the next chapter, Koch explains how to properly compliment and correct in ways that encourage children to continue progressing in exhibiting desirable traits and attitudes. At the end of the book, there are several appendixes with lengthy examples such as a list of complimenting words and a list of character traits.

I recommend this book to all parents who hope to raise their children to become God-honouring, responsible adults. Undoubtedly, it is the Spirit who works in our children to bring about lasting change that pleases God. However, Koch reminds parents of their responsibility to nurture their children’s hearts so that their God-given talents, gifts, and abilities are fully utilized for His glory. I appreciate how the author always asks parents to first examine their own hearts before trying to scrutinize their children’s hearts. The most fertile soil in which the hearts of our children develop is through the power of God’s Word, the supernatural work of His Spirit, and the tender, purposeful words and actions of God-loving parents. Although our parenting may sometimes seem ineffective and disappointing, we can have confidence that God always gives enough grace to parents and children so that both mature in greater godliness and love for God and between family members.

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

Book Review: Escaping Escapism

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In Escaping Escapism, Dave Griffith-Jones hopes to motivate readers to move from fear to courage through the person and work of Jesus Christ. In Chapter 1, the author discusses how escapism is rooted in a divided heart that refuses to commit to God’s ways while seeking selfish solutions that exacerbates the issue even more. Furthermore, Chapter 2 explains how fear is the fuel of escapism so that all our decisions become subject to those fears instead of the only One we should fear which is God Himself. In the next chapter, Griffith-Jones points out that the solution to fighting escapism is through Jesus who lived a perfect life in accordance with God’s will. Through His life, death, and resurrection, we are now filled with His Spirit who changes us to become more like Christ. The author highlights in Scripture how God is the One who re-creates our divided hearts to be completely devoted to Him. Moreover, we need to constantly fix our eyes on Jesus instead of focusing on the idols of our escapism. The next chapters describe how seven aspects of who Jesus is to us can stir us to courageous action. Firstly, Jesus is our refuge so we find solace and security in Him against our fears. We also know that Jesus is our shepherd so He guides us through the ups and downs of life. Moreover, Jesus is our light that illuminates the darkness in our lives and helps us to see the truth that is in Him. Next, Jesus is our portion so we can be content with all the goodness and blessings that flow from Him. Jesus is also our rock giving us a firm foundation to stand against the pressures of life. Furthermore, Jesus is our strength so we do not need to try fixing life’s troubles in our own power. Lastly, Jesus is our salvation thus our identities are rooted in Him and do not need to fear failure. In the final chapter, Griffith-Jones concludes by using the analogy of mountain climbing to describe practical steps that one can take to begin the journey away from escapism.

I recommend this book to Christians who may be gripped with fear which often breeds apathy and indifference. Many of us experience great joy when we were first converted but difficulties and troubles eventually choke all joy out of our lives and we become dominated by fear. Griffith-Jones reminds us that we are not alone treading water in the storm but have Jesus as the One who carries us through every trial and tribulation when we feel weak and helpless. This does not mean that we sit idly waiting for God to remove our troubles but rather, we move forward by constantly meditating on God’s Word, submitting ourselves to Him in prayer, and encouraging each other to carry on. Every little step that we take allows us to pursue godly initiatives that grow our love for God and others instead of satisfying our own selfish desires. When we take enough of these steps, we find that we no longer take the easy way out through escapism but progress towards greater holiness and spiritual maturity.

Book Review: Christ Has Set Us Free

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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

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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

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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.

Book Review: The Love of Loves in the Song of Songs

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In The Love of Loves in the Song of Songs, Philip Ryken brings readers on a tour through the Song of Songs to gain a deeper understanding of love, marriage, and the gospel. The central premise is that the Songs of Songs offers us a guide on God’s design for marriage in this world and the next. More specifically, the marriage covenant in its earthly form is a signpost towards the heavenly marriage between Christ and His church. Ryken discusses each chapter of the Song of Songs in detail and brings out important truths critical to all Christian believers whether married or single. Firstly, the author emphasizes the communal aspect of having godly, experienced Christian believers guiding couples who are contemplating marriage. Secular society views marriage as a personal affair between two individuals which can easily become self-serving and sinful. In our relationships with others and with Christ, we also need the watchful care of mature believers to ensure we are walking in God’s ways. Secondly, Ryken points out that intimacy should be in the context of marriage and not before it. Many temptations can arise when two believers are in such bliss that they neglect the lurking dangers of sinful desires. Sexual sins are forgivable by the grace of God but Ryken urges believers to stay far from flirting with sexual temptations. Moreover, we need to maintain our purity in our relationship with Christ by actively abstaining from arousing sinful desires and fleeing from temptations. In addition, the author states that marriage is not merely about physical intimacy and sexual union but also the union of friendship and companionship between the two lovers. Ryken takes a careful approach by not viewing the Song of Songs as an allegory or narrative but as a love poem that describes the joy of love and marriage. By doing so, the author avoids incompatible and unnatural interpretations of the text while drawing out valuable observations that implicate our relationships with others and Christ.

I recommend this book to all those who feel discouraged by how far culture has departed from the ideal marriage depicted in the Song of Songs. The beautiful imagery of the progression from two strangers to oneness in marriage between the lover and his beloved re-orients us to God’s design for marriage. Furthermore, when we properly reframe our perspective of human love and intimacy through Scripture, we can gain a greater understanding of the steadfast covenantal love that God has for His people. No matter how many times we fail to be the perfect wife worthy of the perfect groom, God never ceases in covering us with His grace and mercy when we turn to Him for forgiveness and acceptance. Ryken asserts that Jesus is the key by which we unlock the treasures of this love poem to cure the longing in our souls for intimacy and love. This is because Jesus is the perfect Lover who sacrificed Himself so that we can be joined to Him forever when He returns to marry His bride.

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