June Book of the Month: Practicing Affirmation

Practicing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree (Paperback $10.19, Kindle Edition $3.99)

God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are not God

It happens in marriages, parent-child relationships, friendships, workplaces, and churches: Communication falters, friendships wane, teenagers withdraw, marriages fail, and bitter rifts sever once-strong ties. Christian communities are no exception. Why do so many of our relationships suffer from alienation, indifference, and even hostility?  Author Sam Crabtree believes that often at the heart of these breakdowns is a lack of affirmation. He observes in Scripture that God grants mercy to those who refresh others, and in life that people tend to be influenced by those who praise them. Crabtree shows how a robust “God-centered affirmation ratio” refreshes others and honors God.

Practicing Affirmation sounds a call to recognize and affirm the character of Christ in others. When done well, affirmation does not fuel pride in the person, but refreshes them and honors God. All who are discouraged in relationships will find wisdom and practical insight in this book.

May Book of the Month: The Greener Grass Conspiracy

This month’s book was a huge help to me last year when I read it for the first time, and I’m excited to read it again. Stephen Altrogge is a great writer, and has a wonderful sense of humor. Most importantly, he understands the Scriptures and what God calls his people to: contentment. If you find that you often have a restless soul, this book should be a great help to you. Read it thoughtfully and prayerfully, and I will pray that you are able to find contentment on your side of the fence!

Get it as a Paperback: $10.39, or on Kindle: $7.99

“The Enemy Within” Wrap-Up

I hope everyone enjoyed reading The Enemy Within by Kris Lundgaard. I got a lot of great feedback, and I couldn’t agree more. It’s a fantastic book and worthy of many more reads in my own life. One of the most helpful sections for me came in chapter 10 when Lundgaard addressed the Seven Cold Splashes on First-Love Fire – Here are a few highlights:

1. The Flesh Knows how to eat an elephant.

The flesh knows that it wouldn’t succeed against us if it stormed the castle and tried to crush our love in one blow. It is subtle, working carefully and deliberately to pick our love apart. The flesh eats away love the way you eat an elephant – one bite at a time.

2. The flesh dresses us up in tuxedoes and evening gowns.

If we insist on worshiping God, the flesh will make our religion into a formal affair, so that it has no power. The flesh will let us go through the external motions of spiritual duties, without any fear of reverence for God – so that our worship becomes a stench in God’s nostrils.

3. The flesh sends us down rabbit trails.

The flesh wants to distract us from the simplicity of the gospel, so that Jesus is not our all in all. It steers us toward a religious or political or moral cause as a substitute for passion for him. It entices us to give our lives to the cause as our chief end.

4. The flesh turns sin into a cuddly pet.

Cuddly pets are sins taht we domesticate and harbor in our hearts. We think of them as either too small or too great to take to God. Our we just plain get too attached to them to let go.

5. The flesh pumps up our heads and shrivels our hearts.

A person with a big head and a small heart can learn the doctrines of sin, yet never be convicted of sin. He can learn the teachings of grace and pardon and the great atonement for sin, yet never feel the peace of God that passes understanding. When the flesh gets a person to the point that he can sit under the teaching of the Word, and even delight in it for its intellectual beauty, yet not be changed, he has snuffed out the wick of his first love.

6. The flesh gets us to do our own thing.

The flesh tries to put out the first of our love by gradually persuading us to live according to its wisdom, rather than God’s. The wisdom of the flesh is to trust in self (the flesh).

7. The flesh is a cat that gets our tongue.

The greatest destroyer of first-love fire is the neglect of private communion with God… two lovers who never speak to each other are not two lovers. A husband who avoids his wife, who reads the paper when she wants to talk to him, who takes up hunting or reading to busy himself so that he won’t have to commune with her, simply doesn’t love her. Period. The person who calls himself a Christian, who says he loves God, yet does not seek his company and delight in it, can’t be a true lover of God. His own flesh has deceived him. If he doesn’t daily give his heart to God and receive God’s heart in return, if he doesn’t daily renew his hatred of his own sin and his delight in God’s mercy, he has no relationship to God.

I thank God for these challenging words and helpful reminders – I also thank God that Lundgaard doesn’t leave the reader hanging with the guilt of sin and sham, but he delivers a power-packed gospel message throughout the book that reminds us that we will sin, but Christ did not for us.

Share your favorite quotes and how you were challenged below.

Ephesus Church Book of the Month: March

Children of the Living God: Delighting in the Father’s Love By: Sinclair Ferguson (Amazon: $8.00, also available on the Ephesus Church book table)

Jesus Christ taught his disciples to call God “Our Father”, and to live as members of His family. Although simple enough for every Christian to understand this is also so profound that its implications take a lifetime and more to explore fully.

Yet, despite Christ’s words and example, Christians have frequently ignored or forgotten his teaching. In these pages, Sinclair Ferguson reminds us of its importance.

Children of the Living God takes as its starting point the wise and thought-provoking question of an old writer: “If the love of a father will not make a child delight in him, what will?” It underlines that we were created for joyful fellowship with God, and explains how we enter his family by new birth and adoption. Its chapters show how the Spirit of sonship, Christian freedom, divine discipline, prayer and the sacraments all contribute to our experience of the love the Father has for his children.

Some Quotes from “The World-Tilting Gospel”

“To understand Jesus, we must begin where His thinking begins: not with John 3:16, but with Genesis 1:1, and on through all that follows. There we find the truth that forms the basis of Jesus’ teaching, truth that we would never find within our own deceptive, incurably sick hearts. To understand who Jesus says that we are, we must understand who we were, and what we became, and how we got there” (p. 37).

It is incredibly important that Christians have a full view of Scripture. God gave us 66 books for a reason, not just a handful of verses. As glorious and life-giving as John 3:16 is, taken out of the context of the rest of the Bible, it makes very little sense. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans who profess Christianity cannot get far beyond explaining that Jesus died on the cross for their sins, but they don’t really know why or what actually happened.

“Dogs have puppies, cats have kittens, and large sinners give birth to little sinners” (p. 57).

We do not learn sin, we are not influenced by our environment to sin, we are not even simply born into sin – it’s far worse than that. All men everywhere, except Jesus, were conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5). It’s a tragic story.

“Jesus’ first word, ‘Repent,’ translates the Greek word metanoeite (meta-no-AY-teh), which indicates a change of mind so fundamental, so root-to-branch, that the life changes as a consequence. ‘God’s kingdom is hanging over your heads like an anvil about to drop,’ Jesus says in effect. ‘So everything about the way you think has got to change'” (p. 60).

A true believer in Christ can be identified by a radically changed life. So much of what Jesus and the Apostles say is related to life change because of Gospel transformation, not so that one might experience gospel transformation. A transformed life is evidence of true repentance and belief. To claim to be a Christian, but to never show evidence of a transformed life is good reason to question whether or not one is in the faith. “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

“Notice that the word dead doesn’t admit any modifiers. Someone might be ‘a bit lively,’ or he might be ‘very lively.’ But nobody is ‘a bit dead’ or ‘very dead.’ There are not degrees of death. Death is an absolute. It is a toggle switch, not a dimmer” (p. 66).

Dead men (all of mankind) cannot repent and believe. It is a total and complete work of God (cf. Ephesians 2:1-10).

“The tremendous reality of God’s holiness gives us a glimpse of our massive dilemma. It is easy to sum up our dismal predicament in two succinct points: 1.  God is holy. 2.  We aren’t. And there is our nightmarish quandary. We are unholy. How can unholy creatures have a relationship with such a holy God?” (pp. 85-86).

A great reminder of why we so desperately need the gospel of Christ who, while we were yet sinners, died for us (Romans 5:8).

“Love defines. A person is defined by his loves. We think that someone who loves entertainment above all is shallow and silly; someone who loves child pornography at all is sick and evil; someone who loves money above all is materialistic and grasping. God is the infinitely majestic one. Whom or what should God love above all? What worthier object of His love is there than Himself? What object of affection does God have that is worthier than God Himself? After all, God’s laws flow from His being, and His prime law is to love God with our all, then to love our neighbor (Matt. 22:36–40). We are to imitate God in our love (Matt. 5:44–45; Eph. 5:1–2). If we are to love Him first, can it shock us to learn that He does the same? If we were to love any creature more than God, it would be idolatry for us. Would it not be the same for God?” (pp. 87-88).

The Baptist Catechism says, “God is the highest and chiefest being” (Question 1). Therefore, God must love Himself above all others lest He be an idolator. For God to love anyone or anything else more than Himself would be to love lesser things greater than the greatest thing. God will not break His own commandment, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).

“When you watch those marvelous nature specials, you are beholding an exhibition of God’s wisdom. Though the narrator blathers on about ‘Mother Nature,’ you should know better: These are the works of God’s hands, and He made them all in wisdom (Ps. 104:24)” (p. 90).

Undeniable to even the most vehement non-believer is the reality that “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). A denial of God’s work and existence revealed in creation is only denied through unrighteous suppression (cf. Romans 1-2).

“God’s plan will bring us into the most intimate relationship with Himself. He will not merely make us servants or subjects—which would be a terrific privilege—but sons, reconciled to Him, adopted into His family with full rights and privileges (John 1:12–13; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:5)” (p. 98).

God always gives far more than we deserve. To be a servant is great. To be a son is far greater.

“Remember, when Jesus announced His coming death to the apostles, Peter was so aghast at the thought that he forgot himself, and actually took it on himself to rebuke Jesus for saying such an appalling thing (Matt. 16:22). What Peter says in Greek is hard to bring over to English; too literally, it is ‘Propitious to You, Lord!’ The idea actually drips with unintended irony: Peter is saying, ‘May God be propitious to You, Lord! May God turn His wrath from You and spare You!’ Yet ‘spare Jesus’ is precisely what God the Father did not do. Had God done that, had God been propitious to Jesus, then His wrath would remain unpropitiated. All humanity would continue forever helplessly and hopelessly under His wrath. We would face an eternity of unrelieved suffering, paying the unpayable and infinite debt of our sins. But God was unpropitious toward Jesus, that He might be propitious toward us” (p. 125).

Amen!

February Book of the Month: The World-Tilting Gospel

The World-Tilting Gospel by Dan Phillips ($12.23, Kindle Edition $9.99)

Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight

The first generation of Christians were not popular. They were ridiculed, persecuted, yet according to Acts 17:6-7, they “turned the world upside down.” As a result, their message was communicated louder and clearer than any message before or since. Even with today’s social medias, big-name celebrities, and shiny evangelism techniques that add glitz and glamour to the gospel, today’s Christians fail to communicate as effectively as the first followers of Christ. Simply put, the early church turned the world upside down, but today’s church has been turned upside down by the world.