This book begins with the question, “Why bother with church?” and ends with the question “Why on earth would I not bother with church?” It’s aim is toThis book begins with the question, “Why bother with church?” and ends with the question “Why on earth would I not bother with church?” It’s aim is to get us excited about church if we aren’t already. Allberry seeks to get us there by showing us two things: (1) what the church is and (2) who it belongs to.
Does he succeed? Largely, yes. The reminders from Scripture that the church is an outpost, a family, an embassy, and the bride of Christ, certainly excited me about the importance of church. "Lacking a church is not equivalent to lacking a decent supermarket or movie theatre; it is like lacking a hospital or a source of water. It is an utter necessity.” Necessary indeed, and also precious: "If you want to understand how committed Jesus is to the church, here’s your answer. He doesn’t just create it and let it be. He marries it.”
Along the way, Allberry answers questions such as: Why do I need church? How is church run? How do I survive church? As to that last question, he diagnoses what may lie behind someone’s boredom in church:
The focus is not primarily on what we do or don’t get out of attending our church, but on what we can give to others. Church is not there for your entertainment, as a consumer, but for you and others to find encouragement, as a contributor. If our “boring-ometer” for church is based on whether we sang songs we liked, or whether the sermon was relevant enough or short enough, or scratching where we have been itching this week, then it could be a sign that we’re going to church for our sake and not for the sake of others.
But the dominant note of the book is boredom with church but excitement for it. And so he concludes
Why bother with church? Because it’s the most important show in town. What goes on when a church meets is far grander than we tend to realise.
It’s God’s family.
It’s God’s embassy in this world.
It’s God’s way of preaching to the spiritual world.
It is, amazingly, Jesus’ bride, who will live with him in the next world.
And, in God’s great mercy, through faith in Christ, you get to be a part of it and to be part of the way God builds it. And if you remember this when you get up next Sunday, you’ll find yourself asking: Why on earth would I not bother with church?
Sometimes the simplest truths are the most profound. And practical. Drawing on Scriptures such as Genesis 2:7, Psalm 90:3, and Psalm 103:14, Ash writeSometimes the simplest truths are the most profound. And practical. Drawing on Scriptures such as Genesis 2:7, Psalm 90:3, and Psalm 103:14, Ash writes, “God is God, and we are dust.” This is the neglected truth we need to act upon daily if we are to maintain a lifelong ministry of sustainable sacrifice.
Because we are dust, we need sleep, Sabbaths, friends, and food; because God is God, he does not. Because God doesn’t slumber or sleep (Psalm 121:3-4), we can. And we can take our weekly Sabbath rest in light of the truth that God is always working (John 5:17).
Then why do we try to push back our limitations and neglect God’s provisions for our frailty? Pride.
To neglect sleep, Sabbaths, friendships and inward renewal is not heroism but hubris. It is to claim that I am a level or two above normal members of the human race. When a fellow-Christian lets slip how very hard they are working, and that they haven’t had a proper day off for a while, we need to find a way of saying to them (in love!), “You are behaving like an arrogant fool!”
In humility and faith we need to embrace our humaneness. In his conclusion Ash counsels us to say to ourselves something like this:
“I am — and will never, this side of the resurrection, be more than — a creature of dust. I will rest content in my creaturely weakness; I will use the means God has given me to keep going in this life while I can; I will allow myself time to sleep; I will trust him enough to take a day off each week; I will invest in friendships and not be a proud loner; I will take with gladness the inward refreshment he offers me. I will serve the Lord Jesus with a glad and restful zeal, with all the energy that he works within me; but not with anxious toil, selfish ambition, the desire for the praise of people, and all the other ugly motivations that will destroy my soul. So help me God.”
If internalized, this slim volume combines truths and testimonies that will safeguard the reader from burning out in his or her service to the Lord....more
Curiously, the "For You" series split its two volumes on Romans at the end chapter 7 instead of Romans 8. Undoubtedly it did so in the interest of shaCuriously, the "For You" series split its two volumes on Romans at the end chapter 7 instead of Romans 8. Undoubtedly it did so in the interest of sharing space rather than trying to follow Paul’s literary structure. However, as Tim Keller shows in one of his introductory paragraphs, it is fruitful to consider Romans 8 with the rest of the letter:
"I have always believed that at the heart of Romans 8 you have the secret to really using the gospel in your heart to change yourself in a profound way; and that the rest of Romans will show you what that change will look like in a practical way. My prayer is that as you read the second half of this wonderful letter, you will find your heart thrilled by the gospel, your mind shaped by the gospel, and your life changed by the gospel.” (loc 67)
And as helpful as Keller’s treatment of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility in Romans 9 to 11 is, and a host of other subjects in 12 to 16, I doubt I’ll be the only reader to find his three chapters on Romans 8 the most stimulating to mind and heart. Keller shows how setting one’s mind “on the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5) relates to the rest of the chapter. It means to be preoccupied with what the Spirit is preoccupied with: "how in Christ we are adopted, loved and welcomed” (193). Yes, “to 'mind…the things of the Spirit’...means never to forget our privileged standing or the fact that we are loved, and to let this dominate our thinking, our perspectives, and therefore our words and actions” (202).
The strength of this book is its succinctness. It will help you understand the last half of this magnificent epistle without bogging you down. Indeed, it will do the very opposite: it will stir you up....more
A excerpt from the book's commentary on Peter after he denied Jesus:
Everything he thought he knew about himself, all his self-confidence and belief in
A excerpt from the book's commentary on Peter after he denied Jesus:
Everything he thought he knew about himself, all his self-confidence and belief in his undying loyalty to his Master, has been shattered and lies in utter ruins. He sees himself as a failure, a liar, a traitor, and one who has just invoked God’s wrath upon himself in denying the Messiah just to save his own skin. Perhaps he recalled Jesus’s earlier words: “Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” Not only has he betrayed and denied the man he had trusted and followed for the past three years, leaving him to face his accusers and die alone, but also he has incriminated himself before God’s judgment seat by uttering his curse and oath…Peter knew that his actions had placed him irrevocably (or so he thought) under God’s wrath, while Jesus knew that he must soon experience the full outpouring of God’s wrath so that Peter, and all others who placed their faith in Jesus, would not have to do the same. (118-119)
Perhaps the best book I read in 2014. It’s a one-stop-shop on prayer in contrast to those that deal primarily with theology, or methodology, but not bPerhaps the best book I read in 2014. It’s a one-stop-shop on prayer in contrast to those that deal primarily with theology, or methodology, but not both.
The book is not novel, but rich, drawing from Scripture and the Masters like Luther, Owen, Calvin, Augustine, Edwards, etc.
A lot of the material I’ve previously read on prayer has emphasized the petitionary aspect of prayer. Keller’s book was striking to me in that apart from one chapter (chp 14), prayer was primarily about conversing with God and encountering him. Indeed, this came through even in that one chapter on intercession (chp 14).
In this regard, I noticed that more than one of these Masters associated 1 Peter 1:8 (which talks about rejoicing with joy that in inexpressible) with prayer.
Keller also does a great job showing how prayer must (and gets to!) be tethered to God’s Word, and it is because of that connection that prayer can indeed be a conversing with God. In this context Keller critiques some ancient and modern approaches to prayer that marginalize the place of Scripture, truth, the mind, or the heart.
In short, this is the kind of book that literally changes my life....more
I first came to know Samuel Rutherford from the lovely little collection of extracts of his letters called The Loveliness of Christ. When given the opI first came to know Samuel Rutherford from the lovely little collection of extracts of his letters called The Loveliness of Christ. When given the opportunity to review this biography and learn about the man who wrote those letters, I jumped at it.
In keeping with the series, Hannula recounts the key events of Rutherford’s life with brevity. He sketches in the historical background, including the Reformation brought to Scotland through John Knox, and growing tensions between king and Kirk. Rutherford was academically gifted, and it was at university that he experienced conversion. And what shines out most from his life also dominates this book: love for Christ. Hannula knows well how best to capture the life of an effusive communicator of Christ’s love—let the dead speak! This little biography is filled with delicious quotes that touch the heart almost 400 years after they were first written.
“Since He looked upon me,” Rutherford could write of his conversion, "my heart is not my own; He hath run away to heaven with it” (22). Of his call to minister at Anwoth: “The great master-gardener, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in a wonderful providence, planted me here, where, by His grace, in this part of His vineyard I grow” (44). Rutherford experienced much suffering. His wife died in her early twenties, and eight of his nine children perished in childhood. “When I am in the cellar of affliction I look for the Lord’s choicest wines” (47).
He became known for his preaching, even though he didn’t look or sound the part. “He was short, slight and preached in a high pitched voice—some described it as ‘shrill’. But he vividly set Christ before his congregation, helping them to see Jesus Christ preaching, healing, bearing his cross, reigning in heaven and interceding for them” (32).
The heart of most of his sermons was “the cross of Jesus Christ and the glories of the Saviour” (32). “One man said that when Rutherford preached about Christ, it looked like he would fly out of the pulpit for joy” (33). “Every day,” he testified, "we may see some new thing in Christ; His love has neither brim nor bottom” (34).
In order to keep this review brief like the book itself, I will close with two things I appreciated about it. First, Hannula gives a balanced treatment of Rutherford’s life that includes his shortcomings. It is reassuring to discover that even the godliest saints had to battle pride all their life (but unsettling to realize they had a lot more reason for it!). "‘You must in all things aim at God’s honour;’ he counselled a friend, ‘you must eat, drink, sleep, buy, sell, sit, stand, speak, pray, read, and hear the Word, with a heart-purpose that God may be honoured." (106). Additionally, he “was naturally hot and fiery” (114)!
Second, I enjoyed the soft spot Rutherford has in his heart for youth. “There is not such a glassy, icy, slippery piece of way between you and heaven as youth” (37). "'O what a sweet couple, what a glorious yoke are youth and grace, Christ and a young man!’ he said.” "‘I entreat you now, in the morning of your life,’ Rutherford once counselled a young man, ‘to seek the Lord and His face. Beware of the folly of dangerous youth — a perilous time for your soul.’"
His legacy today lies not in his books, but in his writings not intended for the public—his letters (135). He had opposed their publication because he didn’t want people to think higher of him than they ought (136). Spurgeon called them “the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men” (137).
Which warrants one more quote: "‘Believe Christ’s love more than your own feelings,’ he advised a parishioner. ‘Your Rock does not ebb and flow, though your sea does.’” (54)....more
If Phil Campbell is right that “clarity is the new black” (Saving Eutychus, loc 539), and if even the Apostle Paul thought that “making it clear” is hIf Phil Campbell is right that “clarity is the new black” (Saving Eutychus, loc 539), and if even the Apostle Paul thought that “making it clear” is how he ought to speak (Col. 4:3-4), then Tim Chester’s new book, 1 Samuel For You, is indeed for you! Clarity of thought and expression is a commodity that Chester offers in abundance in all his books, and this one is no different.
And yet, clarity does not come at the expense of substance. He is quick to point out Hebrew puns and chiastic patterns in the narrative structure. Thorny apologetic questions are given brief but sober treatment (the command to destroy the Amalekites is ethical cleansing rather than ethnic cleansing [loc 1387]). And rich forays are made into the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures (the mountain separating David from his pursuer Saul leads David to sing of God in the Psalms as his Rock) as well as into the NT.
Take the chapter on David versus Goliath, for instance. Here we find that the Hebrew word for Goliath’s armour is “scales”. David, like Adam, must face the snake. He had already tamed the lion and the bear, and now, as a small fulfillment of God’s promise in Genesis 3:15, he lops off the head of the serpent (Goliath). Following this on into the NT Chester writes, “Jesus is the true Adam, crushing the snake and taming the beasts [referring to Mark 1.13]. Jesus is the true Israel, trusting God, defeating giants and securing our inheritance” (lo 1813).
Clarity is also achieved by allowing 1 Samuel to speak powerfully to our lives today. The rather domestic story of Hannah and her barrenness yields this encouragement:
Maybe you have made gospel choices which mean you cannot afford the lifestyle of your neighbours. Maybe you have chosen to give your time to serve others rather than indulging yourself. Maybe you have served on a children’s camp instead of going on holiday…Maybe you have taken on a draining pastoral situation. Maybe you have made choices that mean you face hostility. You speak for Christ even though it will harm your career or ruin your day. Maybe you are childless like Hannah and have chosen not to accept fertility treatment that would mean unused human embryos are destroyed. The message of Hannah’s story and Hannah’s song is this: It is worth it. (loc 302)
Not only is this book marked by clarity. It is also marked by Christ-centeredness. In each chapter Chester follows legitimate paths, not of his own making, from 1 Samuel to King Jesus.
We see how the apostles and early Christians went to 1 Samuel and the psalms of David to show that Jesus was the Christ, not in spite of all his sufferings, but because of them (loc 2355). “So when the early church wanted to prove that the despised and rejected One was in fact God’s true King, this is where they went” (loc 2366).
1 & 2 Samuel contain 20 chapters on the life of David while he was king. But they also include 20 chapters on David before he became king. In 1 Samuel 23 to 26, David faces three tests to skip the suffering and hardship and come into the glory of kingship on his own steam. (loc 2521). Jesus too will be tempted to skip the suffering bit and go straight on to his glory. David refuses to shed Saul’s blood; Jesus “does come to his kingdom through bloodshed, but the blood which was shed was his own.” (loc 2642).
If our King had to go through suffering before glory, we should expect no different. However,
Too often, we expect to be able to get on in our careers without our faith creating problems for us. Too often, we expect to be able to share our faith without facing opposition. Too often, we expect God to solve our problems and take away our suffering. In other words, too often we actually expect glory now without suffering. (loc 2424-2436)
I’ll leave you with Chester’s summary of the book of 1 Samuel, and then with one of my favourite quotes:
In this sense, the whole of the history of God’s people and of the world, from the coming of the first Adam to the return of the second Adam, is captured in the tale of the two kings that is the book of 1 Samuel. (loc 3155)
“Where is the glory or the weight? It is around Eli’s waist.” (loc 639) ...more