In a sermon this morning, I shared one of my favorite quotes from Jared Wilson’s Imperfect Disciple. Jared is one of my favorite authors today, and in my opinion, this is his best book yet. Below is a short summary from my Amazon review, followed by a few of my favorite quotes to entice you to sneak this into your Christmas list.
When we really think about the Incarnation (God taking on flesh), it should stir wonder in us. In The God Who Became Human, Graham Cole summarizes his hope for the reader.
Most books fall pretty neatly into some category: fiction, theology, history, devotional, leadership, etc. The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon does not. It’s a cookbook, of sorts. It’s a theology and apologetics and philosophy book, of sorts. It’s a personal memoir and Christian living book, with a good bit of humor sprinkled in. The short quote on the bottom-front of the book by Craig Claiborne of The New York Times is fitting: “One of the funniest, wisest, and most unorthodox cookbooks ever written.”
Erik Raymond has become one of my favorite authors, and not just because of his love for Boston and its sports teams. I regularly visit Erik’s site at The Gospel Coalition: Ordinary Pastor. He writes with a pastor’s love of the Word and love of people. You can always bank on his words being Christ-centered, and therefore, full of the life-giving grace of Jesus. Like Jared Wilson, Raymond uses a very readable, conversational, sometimes humorous tone to find new ways to drive the same old gospel into the heart.
The quotable Keller doesn’t disappoint in his book on prayer. One section I’ve found especially helpful defines and explains prayer as conversations in response to our knowledge of God. An implication is that one way to galvanize our prayer life is to grow our theology. Continue reading Good Theology Makes for Good Prayers
The superhero film genre shows no signs of slowing down. Every month a new DC or Marvel film tries to quench our thirst for heroes. We were made for heroes. We need them. The problem is we lack authentic, relatable, real-life heroes who show us what a life of passion, love, virtue, courage looks like in a flesh-and-blood human being. Superman and Wonder Woman might leave us looking for someone to save us, but they are so fundamentally unlike us that they fail to provide fallen human heroes we can emulate. Continue reading Steal Away Home
Ecclesiastes 12:12 says, “Of making many books there is no end.” Today, we might add, “Of the year-end list-making for books there is no end.” All such lists are faulty because they’re limited to both the list-makers preferences and the works they read (and didn’t read) in a given year. Nevertheless, I find such lists helpful in for pointing me to books I might have missed but might want to add to my ever-growing Amazon wishlist.
Below are a few of my favorites I read in 2017 (not necessarily published this year).
If you’re at all familiar with the idea of “love languages” (how a person communicates or receives love), then you should know that my love language is Books—and possibly sarcasm. I love books. I could wander through Half-Price Books for hours and not get bored. I like hearing about what others are reading, recommending or giving books that I think someone might enjoy, and I—of course—love reading books.
I’ve been blogging my way through The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. It’s only a couple of chapters a week and I’m now halfway through the short book. Books are like movies in that it’s hard not to make your most recent favorite your all-time favorite. The temptation to overstate things notwithstanding, this is quickly becoming one of my favorite books. Sibbes was known as “the sweet dropper” and throughout this book the sweetness of the gospel is thick. He wrote against the Catholic (“popish”) remains in religion such as a reliance upon external behaviors without consideration of the sincerity of the heart and ritualistic forms of penance instead of genuine repentance. Later Puritans outside a heavy Catholic context would write with other issues at the forefront.
In Chapter 7 of The Bruised Reed, Sibbes addresses two main concerns. First, he investigates some things that might hinder comfort, and secondly, he answers the question whether our weaknesses should keep us from our Christian duties. In the first section, he addresses four ways our comfort and assurance might be hindered in the person who is a “smoking flax.” Whither those hindrances come from Satan or from within the answer is the same: fly to Jesus and open up your complaints to him. As he mentions earlier in the book when discussing the bruised reed, Sibbes here mentions that remaining sin and a struggle of comfort can be an opportunity to be honest about our helpless estate and lean harder upon the mercy and supply of Christ. The realization of the weakness of the flesh can lead to a more steadfast watching and purging of the flesh, and a thirst for pardoning grace from God. The bright compassion and grace of Christ can be seen more clearly against the backdrop of our dark hearts. Furthermore, the fact that there is in us a discontent with our weak state of grace and an unhappiness to remain might conflict us in the moment but it gives comfort by its evidence that we are not happy in our sin. Such is a mark of the work of the Spirit in us.
In the second section of chapter 7 he encourages believers to keep performing their duties even when they don’t feel like it. Though their faith might be weak and they struggle to believe anything they do might actually change the situation or be pleasing to God, don’t let feelings trump the truth. Having seen the compassion of Christ to a bruised reed and smoking flax throughout the whole book, “it should encourage us to duty that Christ will not quench the smoking flax, but blow on it till it flames” (50). The image their is striking. Though there is but a spark of grace in us, Christ will stir this spark into flame by gently breathing into it. Sibbes gives the example of prayer. Although our efforts in prayer might be weak and our thoughts unclear and confused as we pray, this should not keep us from praying. Weakness in prayer is always better than not praying, and the same is true in all Christian duties. “Christ looks more at the good in them which he means to cherish than the ill in them which he means to abolish…Christ loves to taste of the good fruits that come from us, even though they will always savour of our old nature” (50). Going back to the example of prayer, Sibbes preached these words to his congregation: “There is never a holy sigh, never a tear we shed, which is lost. And as every grace increases by exercise of itself, so does the grace of prayer. By prayer we learn to pray” (51).
In chapter 8 Sibbes asks where these discouragements come from. From what he’s already said about God he reasons with us that these discouragements cannot come from the Father, the Son, or the Spirit. They cannot come from the Father because he will “pity us as a father pities his children (Psa. 103:13)” (56). They cannot come from Christ. “We see how Christ bestows the best fruits of his love on persons who are mean in condition, weak in abilities, and offensive for infirmities” (56). And finally, they cannot come from the Spirit because he is our comforter (Rom. 8:26; John 14:16). “If he convinces of sin, and so humbles us, it is that he may make way for his office of comforting us” (57). That conviction is quite different from the discouragement the author has in mind. So, if they do not come from God then what is the source? “Discouragements, then, must come from ourselves and from Satan” (57).
The next chapter-“Believe Christ, Not Satan”-will continue on with this line of thought. In his last sentence Sibbes exhorts us to flee from our Accuser and run to our Advocate. “In time of temptation, believe Christ rather than the devil. Believe truth from truth itself. Hearken not to a liar, an enemy and a murderer” (61).
This week, I’ll combine my summary of chapters 3-4 of The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. In these two small chapters the author begins to explain what is meant by the second metaphor of the book, “the smoking flax.” To review, the book is based upon the messianic description of Jesus from Matthew 18:21.
18 “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19 He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
20 a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
21 and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” (ESV)
The ESV says, “a smoldering wick he will not quench,” but Sibbes goes with the wording as “the smoking flax he will not quench.” Sibbes sees this phrase as referring to those who experiencing a “little measure of grace, and that little mixed with much corruption” (16). Or, you might think of it as the smoldering wick/smoking flax are whose faith is present but the flame is just flickering. This might be a season or it might be where they are after conversion, but Sibbes seems to be referring to those whose faith isn’t yet where they would like it to be. He then uses paragraph after paragraph to demonstrate the compassion of Christ in how he loves, cares for, and fans into flame the smallest sparks of grace in us.
In fact, Sibbes reminds all of us that there is always a mixture of grace and corruption in us (this side of heaven). Just like earlier he said God bruises us so that reeds might know they are reeds and not oaks, here also he reminds us that corruption is not taken away at conversion so we might continually see our need for Christ. “The purest actions of the purest men need Christ to perfume them” (18). We are indeed being refined, “but not so exactly as that no dross remains…Perfect refining is for another world, for the world of the souls of perfect men” (25).
Unfortunately, remaining sin robs many believers from the assurance God desires for them. In Chapter 3 Sibbes shepherds us with the caution not to look to our sanctification but to our justification to know that we are secure in Christ. Subsequently in chapter 4 he offers two reasons why Christ will not quench the smoking flax:
1) The spark is his own; kindled by the Spirit.
2) It leads to his glory in how he preserves light in the midst of darkness.
Several examples are given of how Jesus patiently loved and even sought out those with but a little spark: Thomas in his doubt, the two wavering disciples on Emmaus, Peter in his denials, and the churches in Revelation. Using the example in Matthew 15:32, he writes, “Christ’s heart yearned…when he saw the people without meat, ‘lest they faint in the way;’ much more will have regard for the preventing of our spiritual fainting” (21). Sibbes knows the heart of man all too well and admits we do not often treat others with such grace, and in fact our natural tendency is to quench the smoldering wick. It should not be so, which is why he sets for the example of Jesus and calls us to mirror him our grace and kindness to Christians in their weaknesses. This proves difficult, because some are need of the rod, but we must be careful not to give the rod to those who need us coming in meekness.
Sibbes doesn’t simply move from the perceived “problem” of a smoking wick to the “solution” of a strong flame. Many of us, like me, are too quick to see sin as a problem needing fixed and the ultimate goal being our maturity as disciples. While sin does need eradicated and we do need to grow like “oaks in righteousness”, it is even more important that we meet Christ in our sin as the one who draws near and helps us out. Richard Sibbes tells us in plain words that even our sin must not be missed as an opportunity to experience our need for Christ and his unrivaled sufficiency. “Where Christ shows his great power in weakness, he does it by letting men understand themselves so far as to breed humility, and magnify God’s love to such as they are” (23). Later he echoes the sentiment that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. “Christ refuses none for weakness of parts, that none should be discouraged, but accepts none for greatness, that none should be lifted up with that which is of so little reckoning with God” (23). In all four chapters this theme has been sounded loud and clear. God is not impressed and attracted to us when we think we’ve performed well, nor is he disappointed and driven away when we think we’ve been utter failures. Our greatest problem remains our sin, and yet when we confess our sin to God it can be used as our greatest comfort, God’s grace. “Nothing in the world is of so good use as the least grain of grace” (18).