A Review of “A Dozen Things God Did with Your Sin” by Sam Storms

Christians often perceive God dealing with sin in a binary fashion. He forgives sin, or he holds people accountable for sin and judgment. It’s difficult to argue with that equation because it is factually correct, but it doesn’t encourage much in the way of meditation. This new volume by Sam storms seeks to broaden our perception of what God does with our sin. He does so by enumerating 12 different facets of forgiveness that give us weeks and months of scripture and devotion to draw our souls deeper into the love and goodness of God’s grace.

As an example of the depth that the reader is encouraged to explore, Storms steps to either side of the key point: God forgives you of your sin. On one side of that truth lies the fact that the forgiveness that we enjoy came about because God laid our sin upon his son, Jesus. This draws our devotion from simple gratitude at being forgiven, to considering the cost of that grace. Bringing those two truths together deepens our gratitude and makes it less likely that we will take it for granted. On the other side of forgiveness is the truth that God has cleansed us of our sin. This draws us to an entirely other meditation and degree of gratitude. Not only have we been judicially redeemed, the Christian is washed clean and set apart. As with the previous thought, we are again drawn away from cheap grace.

After giving a dozen positive truths about what God has done with our sin, Dr. Storms adds an important chapter about three things that God does not, and will never do with our sin. I found this chapter to be very important in light of discussions I’ve had with people through the years. Lacking a firm hold on the concept of forgiveness, well-meaning Christians have looked at God’s grace in the same way that we might be tempted to look at human grace, as though it could be rescinded at anytime. Storms makes clear through scripture that this is definitely not the case.

This book is excellent reading for the individual Christian, but I can see this being the basis for a small group or a discipleship relationship study. Each of the topics he touches on can create an opening for a brother or sister to open up and share their concerns with the answer close at hand. Put this book on your reading list today.

Keep in Step with the Spirit by J.I. Packer

The Missing Element

In a blurb commending the book, Ray Ortlund says this about J.I. Packer, “When we face a debated theological topic, we need a guide who has no ax to grind, who is fair, honest, reasonable, and—above all—carefully biblical. We Christians do debate the ministries of the Holy Spirit. But we have a reliable guide in J.I. Packer.” I read that in opening the second of my 10 out of 5 books from 2021, and found small dispute with Ortlund on this point: Packer does take sides in debate. In the volumes that have enriched me, Mr. Packer always takes the side of the biblical text. Unlike so many other authors, he does not read his theology back into the text, instead allowing his position to be discovered inductively. This trait (exhibited by so many of our senior scholars and theologians) makes reading a pleasure and his positions trustworthy.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25

So Packer enters the theological scrum concerning a biblical understanding of the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. His aim in this book is to restore the centrality of the Holy Spirit in the Church, a ministry that is often tossed and torn between the intellectualism of theologians and doctrine and unrestrained charismatic practices. Packer envisioned the book as a corrective to these extremes, a biblical call to Christians to restore the place of the Spirit and His gifts in their faith and lives. Unlike other authors that plant both feet in their camp and refuse to consider positions other than their own, Packer takes a much more irenic tone, insisting that the Bible speak louder than he does.

A point that Packer makes that is important for the reader to engage is that the Holy Spirit is not a discrete ministry on His own. The Spirit is inseparable from the Godhead and will always act in concert with the Father and the Son. He mediates Christ (John 16:14) to us. All the Spirit’s power and gifts are  Jesus working through the Spirit in us. It is in the self-effacing nature of the Spirit’s ministry that we gain the perspective to evaluate spiritual claims attributed to the movement of the Spirit. He will always be directing attention back to the Son, and anything that does not achieve that end is to be considered much more carefully.

The mediation of Christ to His people involves the Spirit in spurring on holiness in their lives. We often refer to this growth using the term sanctification, and it is yet another idea that gets drawn to the edges of the Church. In some quarters it is a practice through which we grow intellectually through Bible study and discipleship. At the other side of the yard, the term sanctification points to a growing perfectionism in behavior. Packer draws the idea back to the center, saying that holiness in the Bible is evidenced by growth in the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit conforming us to Christlikeness and our pursuit of holiness is governed by our beliefs about the Spirit.

Packer takes this axiom to his examination of modern charismatic theology and practices, giving support where appropriate and critique where warranted. This evaluation includes a valuable chapter on different schools of thought and practice pursuing holiness. This part of the book is valuable from two different directions. First, when we locate our generalized tribe within the chapter it helps the Christian to see where their beliefs on this subject derive from. The reader that approaches the text fairly finds a second benefit in learning where other tribes have come from as well, preventing some of less loving criticisms that find their way into our speech. It seems to be Packer’s hope that brothers and sisters in Christ will find their own attitudes becoming as irenic as the one he displays in his words.

Keep in Step with the Spirit is a valuable contribution to the church and written at a slightly above popular level. It is worth every effort in working your way through the text, bible close by so you can read the many references in full context. More than reading the text and placing the book on your library shelves, let it affect your meditation on the Holy Spirit and His work in your life. He was never meant to be divisive within the Church. His ministry is to draw us all closer to Christ as we grow together in the Lord’s image. If this book contributes in some small way to unity within the body, Packer’s efforts will be the blessing it was intended to be.

Sparking a Movement

A summary of Spent Matches by Roy Moran

The Christian church has used a range of participatory metrics to evaluate her success in the modern era. Conversions, baptisms, the number of people present in worship: we fastidiously record these numbers throughout the year and then pore over them at year-end leadership summits. We define success as an increase in these totals; failure, plateau or decline. The analysis of these numbers governs the design and direction of the programmatic functions of the church. Leaders will tweak the edification programs to push for a more active evangelism, believing that transferring more information will make more effective evangelists. But how often are these same leaders referring to the commission given to the Church by her Lord to check the validity of their choices?

As Roy Moran states in his invaluable book Spent Matches, not often enough. The flaw in these metrics of success is that we no longer live in an era where information transfer to our neighbors and friends is effective in igniting their interest in God and His grace. To state this is a more colloquial fashion: the lives that surround the typical evangelical church are not the least bit interested in knowing what goes on inside. What people respond to is running into a radical life, one that is radically committed to Jesus and His teaching. Telling people what we believe puts their hypocrisy radar on full alert (as they have become conditioned to do in all areas of life). Living what we say we believe makes us stand out from the rest of the world clamoring for attention in the lives of our family, friends and neighbors.

It can be tempting to read the book as the outline for implementing a program, particularly because it includes ‘suggested’ outlines for meetings in the closing chapters. Mortify this temptation by slowly considering the imagery of the dire condition of the Church Moran paints at the beginning of the book. He suggests that our metrics should show the declining influence of modern Christian practice, likening the condition to a burning oil drilling platform surrounded by miles of churning sea. In the modern day we have two choices, jump or fry. To stay on our current platform is to die slowly on a long slope of decline. To jump is the join a movement back to the first principles of the Lord’s commission for His community of followers: make disciples who make disciples.

Moran is not the only author to put this idea into print. The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne leads to a similar conclusion, and has been influential in many churches by offering a ladder down from the burning platform. Moran is more forceful. We must jump and return with fresh eyes to the text of Matthew 28:18-20 and stop the bifurcation of the Gospel movement. Following a declaration of the expansive authority given to Him as the basis for the commission, Jesus commands His Church to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (ESV). The command to baptize these new disciples into the family and to teach “them to observe [obey] all that I have commanded you.” The Church has been obedient to this commission, but the methods have resulted in a bifurcated gospel practice where we separate life from faith. We have defined discipleship as an education process (information transfer) and then convinced ourselves that discipleship precedes evangelism (“sharing our faith”). The outcome of this process? Disciples never feel ready to evangelize others, so we double down on teaching them, hoping that someday their ship will launch. All the while, the platform burns.

The myth of preparation-perfection that plagues the information-transfer Church is refuted by reading the verses in the passage that are not a part of the memorized commission. The audience for the Lord’s command is His remaining eleven disciples, some of whom worshipped, but some of whom doubted! Perfection was not to be the enemy of progress, as Jesus commanded them to jump from the platform into the unknown. As Moran says,

“Jesus didn’t exhibit any sense of alarm indicating this was out of the ordinary or unusual. He was quite comfortable with a team that didn’t have it all together. In fact, He was comfortable commissioning people who not only lacked complete faith but were confirmed doubters.”

This is a catalyzing moment in the book, setting in relief the encouragement to jump and ignite a new movement within the Church, disciples who make disciples as they go along, each edifying and encouraging the other rather than relying on subject-matter experts that students feel they have to imitate before moving on the Mission. The Lord does not expect to create a class of mission-minded within the Church, specialists who carry on the Commission while others sit and watch. To be a Christian is to be a disciple, one involved in daily learning what it means to be a follower of Jesus and then putting that into practice. Moran’s take on John 15:8 (“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”) is accurate and puts our current process is stark relief:

“Jesus’ hope was that it would be normal for His followers to make disciples as they lived out a dangerous message that would divide families ad heal the brokenhearted, challenge the well-off and encourage the impoverished, transform the oppressors and bring freedom to the oppressed. To fail to make disciples would indicate followers weren’t connected to Jesus and the heart of His mission.”

Owning this concept is the spark of a movement that puts away information transfer and replaces it with community life. Jesus did not commission us to be taught principles about Himself, he said we were to be taught and then apply what he commanded. This obedience is the missing part in most programs in the modern Church; we are never challenged to show what we’ve done with what we’ve learned and so we never do. This is the source of the apathy we see in the pews. We have more information than we can possibly process at our fingertips, but scarce few opportunities to put it into practice and fewer still partners in the discipleship life holding us accountable. The discipleship patterns that Moran suggests through the book aim to fill this vacuum.

A fair number of churches today claim Acts chapter 2 as their model, seeing a return to the ancient church as a solution to moribund Christianity. The component missing in many is the discipleship pattern given by the Lord’s example and command: disciples, however imperfect, who make other disciples (who repeat the process) in community. This is what will capture the imagination of a world that has long ago become inured to the invitations of the Church. I invite you to read the book a few times and see if you are tempted to jump from the platform into the raging sea of the culture, trusting the Lord’s promise for our weakness, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Book Review: Church by A.W. Tozer

We Are the Body

For many Christians, the Church that Pastor Tozer describes in this new collection is almost a foreign entity given the diluted experience that they have each week. Tozer had a deep love for God and His Church, and it pours forth on the pages of this newly published collection. Many of the words have been previously published but Moody Publi418289shers has assembled new topical collections of these and other unpublished works on themes important to the modern church. The ‘Church’ collection is inspiring reading as Tozer speaks of the importance of Christ’s Bride, not criticizing for long, but rather, reminding the reader of the world-changing purpose of the assembled Christians.

For those familiar with Tozer’s writing, each chapter is the expected gem. His holiness and earnest devotion to God’s Church is not sanctimonious, it draws the reader deeper and deeper in an invitation to the same devotion. The Church is not a social organization, a club to which we can give passing notice. It is the living, breathing organization through which God works to affect the spiritual transformation of His world. Tozer can be both gentle and firm as the moment dictates and, in both instances, the reader is encouraged to commit themselves and be likewise.

If you are new to Tozer, consult the classics alongside this volume: The Pursuit of God and  are good primers. If Tozer has long been on your reading list [as he has mine] you will savor his words and be encouraged in your faith and your ministry, as you probably expect

Fitted with the Gospel of Peace

The apostle Paul describes the tools of spiritual warfare in the new covenant world, naming it the Armor of God in the final chapter of Ephesians. In verse 15 we encounter a phrase unique in the Bible when he speaks of feet fitted with readiness, the readiness coming from “the gospel of peace”, a phrase found only here in the Greek New Testament. Paul gives this command as the foundation of our spiritual armor, steadying our life as each of the component parts works together.

This imagery echoes back to the messenger of peace prophesied in Isaiah 52: How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation”.  Though barefoot, this messenger carried the ‘good news’ of peace to those in exile that restoration would be on the way, that their long bondage would be ending. He shouts a message from the mountaintops that peace had been made with the King, enmity had ended. For the reader [hearer] of Paul’s epistle, this imagery could not be missed and was, in fact, amplified by the Apostle’s magisterial writing in Romans.

“For if, when we were god’s enemies, we were reconciled to him though the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved though his life!”  Romans 5:10

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1

Those set free by Christ know this peace. The Gospel brought this peace and emboldens the peacemakers. The good news sent from the King to the exiles brought hope and in Jesus, the message came to life. As believers have embraced the message, they have surrendered their sovereignty to the true Sovereign. The announcement of the treaty that followed the Lord’s sacrifice gave definition to peace. Knowing, truly knowing, the peace that comes of the gospel propels the freed soul to share this good news with others. We want those around us to know the same freedom, to enjoy the same peace.

The blessing that comes of the gospel of peace is likewise twofold. We are blessed in salvation and in knowing the peace with God that the forgiveness of sins provides. Blessings are also inherent in the calling to proclaim the good news of peace. To be entrusted with such a precious task and message is to feel the love of God, to know the trust of the King.

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news…” Isaiah 52:7

Book Review | A Christological Must Read

High King of Heaven Ed. John MacArthur

One of the most difficult tasks in theological writing is to bridge the technical with the practical. Pastors are challenged to do this each week, studying and understanding God’s Word in its language and context and then putting that technical knowledge to use by the hearer of the sermon. Greek forms and cross-references are interesting but the task at hand is help the Christian hear God speak through the Bible. This challenge applies to an even greater degree when it comes to theological literature. Numerous are the excellent technical tomes in the pastor’s library as are the numbers of practical books on the shelf. Few offer a bridge between the two worlds, but “High King of Heaven” succeeds in being one of the small number that offer this link.

Edited by John MacArthur, High King of Heaven is a compendium of articles touching on the person, work and the Bible’s witness to Jesus Christ who “after he had provided purification for sins, eh sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Heb 1:3) The 23 authors of the individual chapters might cause you hesitate to engage the book, thinking that the potential unevenness might not be worth the effort but let me allay your fears. MacArthur has done a wonderful job as editor (no doubt aided by Phil Johnson) and the book reads smoothly from page to page. Though each author has a unique style, the book as a whole speaks of the magnificence of Jesus Christ with a single voice.

Who should read this book? Though labeled as a contribution to the Systematic Theology library, the chapters are accessible by any Christian familiar with the Bible. There are technical points that are explained well enough that almost anyone can understand them and there are practical points that can be filed for later use if they don’t fit the reader’s immediate context today. “High King of Heaven” is a book that invites you to engage it deeply, marking it up, planning for a second full read. This is not a volume that will be read and then shelved with so many others. This is going to become a standard reference volume, even for those theologians outside of the MacArthur-Calvinist circle.

Book Review: Feels Like Home by Lee Eclove

Let me say this up front, this belongs in every pastor’s library and should be read regularly. Pastor Eclov has given the Church a necessary corrective to the attractive, grow bigger at all costs attitude that can become the dominant outlook in your church. This was not the intent of the Lord when he handed Peter the keys; we were not to adopt the worlds values and methods in the hope that we might be able to ‘share’ the gospel with those who come to the show. The Lord’s plan was to live the gospel, joyful and sacrificially, showing (not telling) what Jesus has brought about in our lives together.

Eclov emphasizes the community of believers over the show. The Church is to be family, celebrating and worshipping and bearing one another’s burdens, all in testimony to what Jesus has done for us. This is the picture of church St. Francis had in mind when gave that famous proclamation to ‘Preach the Gospel at all time times, and if necessary use words.’ Though unsaid in the book, Eclov’s guidance reminds the church that the Gospel is not just for evangelizing, it is for us to give to one another to lift, to calm, to encourage, to love.

Church as home, church as family. Reminders of the sometimes forgotten nature of ministry that Pastor Eclov walks through in encouraging chapter after convicting chapter. Growth for growth’s sake is not a biblical guiding principle, church as family is. Read this excellent book (ignoring the mid 70’s cover art) and then prepare to read it again, little by little. Thank you Lee.

Book Review: The Unsaved Christian by Dean Inserra

A Mission Field Nobody Wants to Engage

The presence of the unsaved thinking of themselves as Christians has been a reality forever. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus himself warns against putting stock in a false conversion saying, “not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus says it, but the state of the modern church is often resistant to hearing and heeding the admonishment. As author Inserra relates, cultural Christianity has embedded itself deeply in the Church, its comforting lack of accountability enveloping people in a warm embrace of false belief.

Inserra structures is excellent book along the lines of a missionary guide for an unreached people group. The interaction that he shares at the beginning of the book with his seminary classmate sets a challenging tone. While Pastor Inserra looked at his brother’s assignment to Northern California as an incredible challenge (the land of proud unbelief), his brother turned the table to warn him against the assumptions that came with an assignment to the Bible Belt. This bracing moment is when he began to really examine the reality of faith amongst those who proclaimed a belief in Christ as a part of their everyday life. Examination proved that this belief was anecdotal in some cases, cultural in most of them and simply a part of being a citizen of the South for many. The chapters of the book that follow the analysis give the reader excellent study points for ways in which to approach each of these groups and more.

“Unsaved” is a quick read but not shallow. As someone involved in ministry, I can see a face to go along with each of the belief types that he describes. This personalization gives the reader the opportunity to think through the conversation that you want to have in the way that you want to approach that person. It didn’t begin the book with high hopes because I thought it was simply stating the obvious, but Inserra has performed a valuable service for Christ’s church, saying the hard things that need to be said in love.

 

Book Review: Zealous for Good Works by Todd Wilson

Pastor Wilson turns the Church’s attention to the much quoted but less applied New Testament epistle of Titus and its core message. The Spirit inspired the author of that letter to not only leave his worker Titus on the Greek island of Crete to organize the Christians there, but gave the principles by which he was to do so as well. Using as his objective that the Church be the city on a hill that Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount, Wilson leads the reader through the points of Paul’s letter and helps us to understand how his marching orders for Titus apply to the Church today.

For such a brief book the value is immense. Wilson expertly exegetes the equally brief letter and helps the reader to see the big idea in each of the passages. ‘Zealous’ is not a gnostic promise (Jabez et al.) of discovering some new hidden secret, but rather, it is an eminently practical look at the principles that Paul gave to Titus that address many of the shortcomings of the Church in our age. Three that are discussed in the book are the poor level of discipleship, the chasm of credibility (that is, the difference between what we say and what we do) and the effect that these have on how we apprehend the missional opportunity ahead of us.

Read ‘Zealous’ with your bible close by. It is likely you have read Titus multiple times (if you are picking up a books such as this) but much of that reading has been focused in the Eldership requirements. Wilson deftly leads the reader to see that Titus contains so much more practical application for the Church beyond those instructions. For example, Wilson stops us in a passage often seen as preamble, Paul’s greeting in 1:1-4 to point out the importance of preaching and the power of the gospel. The gospel is both the content and the power of preaching something that can be missing in today’s environment of therapeutic deism. A city on hill is not built on the pillars of making people feel better where it teeters and shifts with every new personal demand. It is founded on the unchanging glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The only disappointment I had with the book was that it was over so quickly. The more I think about it though, the length of the book is exactly right given the brevity of the profound instruction in its source. I have a new hunger to dig into Titus and preach it in the future. In the meantime, the study guide included at the back of the book is a bonus for church leaders seeking to present their people as salt and light in the world. Buy this, read this and read it again.

Chicken soup for the Giver’s Soul

 

I Like Giving - Brad FormsmaI Like Giving by Brad Formsma

The subtitle of the book is ‘Practical Ideas, Inspiring Stories’ and Formsma doesn’t disappoint on either count. I Like Giving is 210 pages of encouragement to engage generous giving as a lifestyle rather than viewing it through the lens of ten percent. The illustrative stories that compose the majority of the book do two things; they primarily give us inspirational stories retelling the giving experiences of the author and others but also provide insight into the long-term effects that giving can have as God works through the provision of others. It is the end-end result that we usually never get to see that is often the greatest benefit of a gift.

The book is a breezy read that will inspire you to take action, even it is just to pass the book on to someone else who might likewise be inspired. Formsma emphasizes that an important line needs to be crossed in our lives, transitioning from thought to action. It’s one thing to be inspired and have your heart warmed and yet another to be inspired, lace up your sneakers and go give. The biblical author James makes the same comment, saying “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?”

I’m grateful to WaterBrook Press who provided this book for review.