Book Review: Tullian Tchividjian’s Suprised by Grace

Leave a comment

The story of Jonah is often learned as a children’s story. Though the biblical account is short (only 4 chapters), most learn the truncated story: Jonah runs, Jonah is swallowed, Jonah is vomited out, Jonah lives happily ever after. It is ironic that we call the story, “Jonah and the Whale” because using the word “whale” deviates from the biblical account as much as the rest of the children’s story. In reality, Jonah’s tale is sad and shocking, telling greatly of our failures and God’s mercy.

Tullian Tchividjian explores this in his book, Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels. In this book, Jonah’s failures are laid bare, just as they are in scripture. More so, Tchividjian shows at every turn how God’s mercy exceeded these failures, all along reminding us that we are Jonah.

Tchividjian uses a great mix of classic theology (citing Calvin’s commentaries more than others), art (there are pages of prints to explore), and modern poetry (from Robert Frost and John Piper) to draw out the richness of Jonah’s tale. Tchividjian is clearly passionate about Jonah and as a pastor, he applies the lessons of the text to sinners needing reconciliation.

That is not to say that this book is purely a devotional book. Though it has those elements, and is easily readable, it is equally scholarly. The entire text of Jonah is covered and there is an extensive bibliography. I plan to place this book in my library along side my Jonah commentaries.

We are all rebels when it comes to God. Like Jonah, we attempt to run as far as we can in the opposite direction. Like Jonah, God pursues such rebels relentlessly, saving them from the depths, bringing them back to His purpose, and displaying his mercy in unimaginable ways.

I strongly recommend this book. If you are familiar with the biblical account of Jonah then you will enjoy this rich treatment. If all you know is “Jonah and the whale,” read this book immediately.

And now there’s no freer place to be in life than going with him – the One who is himself our true liberty.

Breaking All The Rules

1 Comment

This past week, our church hosted an event for High School and College students. It was certainly successful in that we accomplished the goals: draw together high school and college students, celebrate the Gospel, and proclaim the gospel. Mission accomplished. It was a great night with sincere, worship, biblical preaching, and lives were truly changed.

However, as I reflect on evening, I realize that we did several things that fly in the face of conventional youth ministry/college ministry wisdom.

First, we did not offer food. None. Zip. Nada. No all you can eat pizza, no world’s longest sundae. We did not bait the hook with teen friendly food.

Second, we had no games, contests, or other silliness. We did absolutely nothing to make the evening fun because we figured the music and preaching would be enjoyable enough.

Third, the music was honest worship music and even included a few hymns. Not a single “hand motion” was to be found. We did not try to pretend that a top 40 song was worship and we did not seek to entertain anyone but the LORD.

Finally, the sermon was (and I am not exaggerating) 70 minutes long. Joshua Hedger is a great preacher and he had everyone’s attention as he preached 70 minutes and covered more than two chapters worth of scripture (Ecclesiastes! No one told him you can’t teach the Old Testament to young people).

We broke every youth ministry rule I know, and those students loved it. We had a big crowd of believers and non-believers alike, and they loved it. Why? Because Jesus is enough. It occurred to me that many churches try very hard to come up with other reasons why someone might come to church. It is as though we are apologizing because God is so boring. How ironic that we might teach that Christ is above all, but treat him like a tacked-on portion of our service.

Now, before you compose that angry email, let me say that I don’t think pizza parties, silly songs, and games are wrong. I just think youth ministers tend to rely on them as a crutch. In doing so, we inadvertently express that God is boring and His church has nothing to offer but entertainment. Christ is enough. If you can’t believe that, maybe entertainment really is all you have to offer.

Additional thoughts on prayer

Leave a comment

After reading E.M. Bounds’ Power Through Prayer, I wrote about my thoughts concerning prayer and loving God with my heart as well as with my mind.

For many, there remains a question as to how one should pray. To that end, I have found Luther’s A Simple Way to Pray to be very helpful and worth reading.

Using scripture as an anchor for prayer brings us to a good reflection on the Gospel as well as guides what our petitions should be.

For me, such prayer keeps me focused (my mind tends to wander) and keeps me from confusing prayer with a trip to see Santa at the mall.

I hope to pray to and for the glory of God!

Some Thoughts on Prayer

Leave a comment

It is well known among pastors that Martin Luther spend about two hours each day in prayer. The exception for Luther would be particularly busy days, on which he would pray three hours. Robert Murray McCheyne devoted several periods of the day to prayer. It is well known to pastors that the great ones prayed. Unable to attend the Desiring God conference, I decided to spend the week looking at prayer. I listened a little online to the conference and pulled E.M. Bounds’ classic, Power through Prayer off the shelf.

Reading Power Through Prayer is both refreshing and challenging. It is much more of a devotional work than a scholarly work. I believe I am reading E.M. Bounds’ heart on prayer as I read these pages. His passion covers his work and it is very refreshing.

On the other hand, it is very challenging. I don’t know that anyone can truly read such a discourse on prayer and think “I pray enough.” Yet, time spent in prayer is not the true challenge I am left with.

Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength. I have learned some lessons on strength and endurance lately as I have tried to become a runner. In that regard, I have pushed myself to a new limit each week and have seen that growth surpasses pain. Such could be said of enduring in my walk with Christ. As to loving God with my mind, I have spend most of the past year with this challenge. I have studied more, read more, and sought to convey more in preaching. This has been rewarding in many ways. Yet, prayer is not about loving God with my mind, but with my heart. It is a necessary in a relationship with God as romance is in marriage. All manner of endurance and study seems to lack until there is heart-felt worship and prayer.

I find that two things tend to get in the way of prayer. First is pure idleness. As a product of my culture, I find it terribly difficult to turn off the need to be stimulated through the senses. It is hard not to watch something, listen to something, experience something, and imagine something without my mind quickly wandering to something. I find that “be still and know that I am God” may be the most difficult verse to obey.

Second, I find it difficult to rely on something other than myself. To love God with strength, I need will power. To love God with my mind, I need to learn and listen and read. To love God with my heart, I need God. For sure, the others don’t go far without Him either, but prayer requires a sort of helplessness that does not come easy. Most would rather do than pray and most would rather figure things out for themselves rather than ask for prayer.

Yet, when we realize our true helplessness, then something else happens. The love of God in our heart becomes like the love of a child. Our prayers well up and pour out naturally. Our mind desires more and we feel a renewed strength for the race.

Lord, let me learn to rely on you. Let me pray as my love for you bursts at the seams. This will be my prayer today.

Book Review: Mark Dever and Paul Alexander’s The Deliberate Church

Leave a comment

Since there are no perfect churches, most pastors struggle with how to motivate productive change in their congregations. How to accomplish this is the topic of numerous classes, conferences, and books, and being able to temper the desire to change with patience can mean the difference between a short and long pastorate. It is almost maddening for a pastor to keep up with all the latest trends, and even more difficult for a church to follow the frantic pace of a pastor grasping at straws.

For many, one of the hallmark books pointing in the right direction is Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. In it, Mark Dever gives the following as marks of a healthy, Biblical church:

Expository preaching
Biblical theology
A Biblical understanding of the Gospel
A Biblical understanding of conversion
A Biblical understanding of evangelism
Biblical church discipline
Biblical discipleship
Biblical church leadership

Many of those who enjoyed Nine Marks may have been able to effect a few of those. After all, a pastor can most likely determine if he will preach expository sermons, and can present the Gospel in such a way that the church develops a Biblical understanding of it, conversion, and evangelism over time. However, a church that displays all nine marks of a healthy church seems out of reach.

That is where The Deliberate Church by Mark Dever and Paul Alexander comes in. Consider this to be the “how-to” guide for Nine Marks. Addressing issues of structure and leadership, Dever and Alexander show practical steps a church can take towards becoming a healthy church.

This is more than just a step by step guide. The real answers lie in theology. Dever and Alexander go to the heart of how a church is defined. This book helps a church leader to question how the membership is defined and guarded as well as what the church does when it gathers together. However, the root is deeper still to the leadership.

Churches rarely grow past the maturity of the leaders. It may be possible, but it is certainly not likely(p. 143)

For this reason, healthy and productive change in a church will only come through a mature leadership. Many churches are hamstringed by unbiblical leadership models and immature leaders. In The Deliberate Church, Dever and Alexander help to identify these problems and give practical insight for calling mature leaders and working within church leadership in a healthy way.

I highly recommend this book for church leaders and laypeople alike. This book is rich in both sound theology and practical application. It is reasonable, mature instruction is a sometimes frantic and crowded field.