REVIEW: Heart of the Matter: Daily Reflections for Changing Hearts and Lives (CCEF)

I can say, without a doubt, that some of the most potent, Christ-exalting, gospel-centered biblical counsel I have encountered has come through the speaking and writing of the faculty at the Christian Counseling & Education Foundation (CCEF).  These men and women are not interested in quick-fix, self-help, moralistic nonsense.  They are unswervingly committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  They are of the conviction that real, Spirit-wrought power for the changing of the human heart occurs as we dive more deeply into the gospel, applying it to the myriad of circumstances and situations of our daily lives.

The writings and resources of the CCEF are incredibly extensive.  Effectively working through all of them, though undoubtedly worthwhile, would take years to accomplish.  That’s why I was immensely excited when I was introduced to Heart of the Matter: Daily Reflections for Changing Hearts and Lives (New Growth Press, 2012),ed. by Nancy B. Winter.  This daily devotional is a collection of some of the most powerful excerpts from the writings of those on staff at CCEF.  The authors include, but are not limited to, Paul David Tripp, Edward T. Welch, David Powlison, and Timothy S. Lane. Organized by the calendar year and paired with a daily reading from the Scriptures, these vignettes are sincere, to the point, and clearly hopeful in the power of God to change hearts through the gospel of Christ.  While deeply steeped in the grace believers have received from God in Christ, each devotion then includes questions for personal reflection and application.  As I mentioned, these devotions are not designed to give the reader 5-steps to personal change/fulfillment, but rather are written to make the reader aware of the sovereignty of God, the grace presently available in the gospel, and hope that real Sprit-wrought change is possible.

Two things that make this resource particularly helpful are the Source Index and Scripture Index included at the conclusion of the volume.  This will be of great assistance to readers who, when particularly impacted by a given devotional, desire to know the resource from which the excerpt came.  Additionally, the Scripture Index allows the reader to use the devotional as a companion when studying a specific book of the Bible.

In a day and age where so many “Christian” devotionals are filled with mere fluff, Heart of the Matter is a distinctly different resource that will assuredly encourage believers to reflect more seriously upon the gospel and be used by God to powerfully change hearts and lives to the praise of his glorious grace.  I wholeheartedly commend it to you!

*A copy of the book was provided by the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review.  I was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

BOOK DETAILS

Publisher: New Growth Press
Author: CCEF Faculty
ISBN-13: 9781936768653
Cover Type: Hardcover
List Price: $19.99
Pre-Order at Westminster Bookstore$17.99 – 10% Off

You may also pre-order the volume for $17.59 from the New Growth Press webstore: Available Here.

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GOOD NEWS: Having nothing. Possessing everything.

“Known—yet regarded as unknown; dying—and yet we live on; beaten—and yet not killed; sorrowful—yet always rejoicing; poor—yet making many rich; having nothing—and yet possessing everything.” 

2 Corinthians 6:9-10 
 


The Christian is a paradox. Because he has Christ, he
has the unsearchable riches of Christ. Believers . . .

have full and free forgiveness of all their sins;

are fully accepted in the Beloved;

are clothed in Christ’s spotless righteousness;

are adopted into the family of God;

have a perfect title to heaven through Christ;

have God for their Father,

have Christ for their Savior,

have the Holy Spirit for their Comforter,

have heaven for their home;

shall be like Christ and with Christ forever;

shall inherit all things;

are sure of ultimate victory over . . .

sins,

the world,

the flesh,

the devil,

all sorrow,

death,

hell.

-William S. Plumer (1802-1880)

 

*For more gospel-soaked goodness from Plumer, consider The Grace of Christ: Sinners Saved by Unmerited Kindness (eBook).  ON SALE at MonergismBooks.com for only $1.75!

(HT: Grace Gems)

Dangerous Calling: Tripp on Pastoral Ministry

Every time I read or listen to Paul Tripp, one liberating message consistently resounds in my head and heart:

As desperate sinners we can be ruthlessly honest about our need for grace, because the very grace we so desperately need is available to us–right now–in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

I was recently encouraged, as I opened my email inbox, to find some exciting news from Crossway in the form of an advanced-copy PDF.   In his forthcoming book, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, Tripp recounts some of the most trying experiences within his own life and ministry in order to provide a “diagnostic” that will help pastors honestly face and wisely navigate the challenges, temptations, and potential pitfalls frequently facing those in pastoral ministry.  I’ve only begun to flip through the pages, but it is clear that Tripp powerfully demonstrates how the liberating message of grace is needed as much by the pastor as it is by the parishioner.

Divided into 3 parts, Tripp begins by “Examining Pastoral Culture”.  In this section, Tripp uncovers the common dangers that pastors face when they lack community and personal accountability, refuse to listen to those around them, face relational difficulties within their own marriage and family, allow their identity to be defined by their ministry, only approach the Scriptures with an academic bent (or as only applying to the lives of others), form misconceptions about ministry “success”, and fail to consistently preach the truth of the gospel to themselves.

Tripp moves forward to examine the ramifications of forgetting who God is.  In a section entitled “The Danger of Losing Your Awe (Forgetting Who God Is)”, Tripp examines how, as Warfield stated, “constant contact with divine things” can result in complacent theological familiarity and a loss of awe for the power, presence, and person of God.  Forgetting who God is results in sinful fear, secrecy, complacency and frustration.

Part 3, “The Danger of Arrival: Forgetting Who You Are”, takes aim at the dangers of forming a magnified view of ourselves that is selfish, sinful, and altogether unbiblical.  Tripp notes that when we choose to become the objects of our worship we prideful, defensive, disconnected, overtly self-confident, and always desiring to make ourselves known in an unhealthy way.  Tripp notes how choosing to worship God personally and privately, will allow us to encounter the glory of God in such a way that it will then allow us to see ourselves for who we truly are, stripping us of our self-focus, self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, and more…in turn allowing us to truly experience life.

In each section, Tripp never leaves you guessing as to how God’s grace reaches into each situation with its healing power.  The strength of Tripp’s writing lies in his ability to surgically, and thus often uncomfortably, address the infections and wounds of sin within the life of the believer, and in this particular case, the pastor.  He then wisely notes how our sinful hearts often try to cover over these wounds, or out rightly ignore them, which leads to increased damage to our hearts and destruction in the lives of those around us.  Again, he never leaves the person with a sense of despair, no matter how deeply the sin has permeated one’s own heart and life.  God has given Paul Tripp the ability to speak the Good News of the gospel of God’s grace toward us in Christ with such clarity and effective soul application that even the most desperate person, who chooses to believe, will rejoice in the light of the availability and liberating power of God’s grace.

As a young minister who has served in various pastoral capacities over the last 5 years, even in my quick reading of this book, Tripp has already uncovered many of the sinful tendencies I see and struggle with in my own life.  Thus, I can confidently say, for the young pastor or the seasoned one, this book is a must read!  Pick up a copy, be personally and ministerially honest, and glorify God by applying and reveling in the now-available grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Dangerous Calling is expected for publication on October 31, 2012.  Until then, you can pre-order a hardback copy at Amazon for $11.86 (48% off the cover price of $22.99).  You can also check out the info page at Crossway for endorsements and additional details.

NOTE: I was provided with a complimentary advanced-copy PDF of this title from the publisher for the purpose of review, and was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

Build Your Comforts Upon Christ

William Bridge, the English Puritan and pastor, writes of the necessity of basing one’s comfort upon the rock that is Christ, as opposed to the sand, or “rotten peg”, of our ever-changing conditions in life.  Wise, Christ-centered words for battling discouragement!

“If you would not be discouraged in any condition, then never make your comforts depend upon your condition, nor be in love with any condition for itself; let not your condition itself be the cause or ground of your encouragements.  Hang a cloak or garment upon a rotten peg, and that will break, and the garment will fall down. Now there is no condition but is a rotten peg.  Every condition is alterable; no condition so firm and fast, but is exposed to many changes; it is a rotten hold. God is a pillar, nay pillars. His name is Adonai, which signifies as much, and in Isa. 26, we are commanded to trust in the Lord, “For in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength,” or “the Rock of Ages.” And, says the Psalmist, “My flesh faileth, and my heart faileth, but God is the Rock of my heart forever” (so the Hebrew) Psalm 73:26.  Base your comforts upon your own condition, and you do but build on the sand, which will be carried away with every wind, and storm, and tempest; but if you build upon Christ Himself, upon God Himself, you build upon the Rock, and though the floods, and storms, and winds rise and beat upon you, yet you shall not lose your comforts, because they are built upon a rock.”

-Taken from “No Reason for Discouragements”, accessed here.

For more of William Bridge, consider A Lifting Up for the Downcast.

The Fittest Tools for Fighting Sin

While we’re on the topic of killing sin in the life of the believer (see last post), I thought I’d pass along a deeply encouraging passage from one of the greatest sermons ever written on the expulsion of sin from the Christian’s heart.

“The Expulsive Power of a New Affection” by Scottish Presbyterian minister, Thomas Chalmers, is one of the most significant pieces ever written on the sanctifying power of the gospel.  Noting the futility of our efforts to kill sin simply by a moralistic, “try-harder” attempt to rid the heart of impurity, Chalmers offers a better way.

To summarize his message, he writes that in order to successfully put away a sinful affection, we must replace that affection with a new affection so great and glorious, it forces the sinful affection to be subordinated and obliterated.  Because the heart cannot move from a sinful affection to no affection at all, it will, by its very nature, move on to another.  We must choose then, by the power of the Spirit, to replace our old affections with the beauty and glory of the love of God demonstrated in the person and work of Christ.

Near the end of his sermon, Chalmers writes:

The object of the Gospel is both to pacify the sinner’s conscience, and to purify his heart; and it is of importance to observe, that what mars the one of these objects, mars the other also. The best way of casting out an impure affection is to admit a pure one; and by the love of what is good, to expel the love of what is evil. Thus it is, that the freer the Gospel, the more sanctifying is the Gospel; and the more it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more will it be felt as a doctrine according to godliness. This is one of the secrets of the Christian life, that the more a man holds of God as a pensioner, the greater is the payment of service that he renders back again. On the tenure of “Do this and live,” a spirit of fearfulness is sure to enter; and the jealousies of a legal bargain chase away all confidence from the intercourse between God and man; and the creature striving to be square and even with his Creator, is, in fact, pursuing all the while his own selfishness, instead of God’s glory; and with all the conformities which he labours to accomplish, the soul of obedience is not there, the mind is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed under such an economy ever can be. It is only when, as in the Gospel, acceptance is bestowed as a present, without money and without price, that the security which man feels in God is placed beyond the reach of disturbance—or, that he can repose in Him, as one friend reposes in another—or, that any liberal and generous understanding can be established betwixt them—the one party rejoicing over the other to do him good—the other finding that the truest gladness of his heart lies in the impulse of a gratitude, by which it is awakened to the charms of a new moral existence.

Salvation by grace—salvation by free grace—salvation not of works, but according to the mercy of God—salvation on such a footing is not more indispensable to the deliverance of our persons from the hand of justice, than it is to the deliverance of our hearts from the chill and the weight of ungodliness.Retain a single shred or fragment of legality with the Gospel, and we raise a topic of distrust between man and God. We take away from the power of the Gospel to melt and to conciliate. For this purpose, the freer it is, the better it is. That very peculiarity, which so many dread as the germ of antinomianism, is, in fact, the germ of a new spirit, and a new inclination against it. Along with the light of a free Gospel, does there enter the love of the Gospel, which, in proportion as we impair the freeness, we are sure to chase away. And never does the sinner find within himself so mighty a moral transformation, as when under the belief that he is saved by grace, he feels constrained thereby to offer his heart a devoted thing, and to deny ungodliness. To do any work in the best manner, we should make use of the fittest tools for it. (emphasis mine)

If you’re interested in reading more of Chalmers’ work, check out the Letters of Thomas Chalmers.

Toward Biblical Grieving…

I’m thankful for Cruciform Press.  They continue to provide solid, concise, gospel-centered, thought-provoking, Christ-exalting books month after month.  And, with the option of an eBook subscription at $3.99/mo., the blessing of benefiting from their volumes couldn’t come at a more reasonable price.

Last night, I decided to crack the virtual cover of this month’s release, Grieving, Hope and Solace: When a Loved One Dies in Christ, by Albert N. Martin.  I had no idea that I’d be so immensely impacted in such a short amount of time.

Looking over the table of contents, I decided to head straight for chapter 7 entitled, “What Jesus Has Gained”.  In this chapter, Martin begins to address a number of focal points for biblical grieving.  I have to admit, I have never looked at the death of a loved on in Christ from the perspective of what Christ gains when our loved ones depart from their bodies to be in his presence.  And, while navigating through the difficult time losing a loved one is never easy, Martin’s counsel certainly paves the way toward hope and healing.

Martin notes 3 specific ways in which Christ experiences gain in the midst of our loss; and in embracing these realities I believe we can more thoroughly bless the Lord in the midst of our seasons of grief.  In terms of what Christ gains, he writes:

  1. “In the death of one united to Christ, Jesus receives a precious, partial fulfillment of his own redemptive purpose and purchase.” (cf. Eph. 1:4; 5:27)
  2. “In the death of one united to Christ, Jesus gains the desire of his heart expressed in John 17:24.”
  3. “In the death of one united to Christ, Jesus receives a new dimension of joy.” (cf. Heb. 12:2)

Taking these realities together, Martin articulates that in the midst of loss we must consciously resolve to focus on the joy which Christ has gained.  His beautiful conclusion to the chapter reads:

“Whatever we lose in the death of dearly loved ones, remember this. We did not leave the privileges, the glories, and the joys of heaven itself in order to save our loved ones from eternal damnation. We did not undergo the agony of Gethsemane with its bloody sweat, nor did we endure the spit-drenched face, the buffeting, the scourge-shredded back, the torturous act of crucifixion, the darkened face of God the Father, or the pain of hell itself, vicariously endured. Jesus has much more claim on our loved ones than we do. Let us dare not entertain secret thoughts—manifestations of unmortified self-will—that God is unfair in taking them from us. Instead, when our loved one had become our loss, we must consciously and deliberately direct our thoughts to the joy that has become Jesus’ gain. Remember this clear and stirring declaration: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).”

Excerpts taken from: Albert N. Martin (2011). Grieving, Hope, and Solace (Kindle Locations 718-719, 738, 752, 769-773). Cruciform Press. Kindle Edition.

Download it…it’s SOLID. (…and FREE!)

If you’re not already aware, I wanted to point you in the direction of a few great resources that are available for free PDF download…

Reclaiming Adoption Study Guide Dan Cruver’s book, Reclaiming Adoption is a gospel-soaked, engaging , accessible primer on the doctrine of adoption and it’s implications for our relationship with God and our support of orphan care in the world.  You can read a short write-up/pre-review I did here.  The study guide is a great resource whether or not you have read or even own the book (you really should own it!). Click here to download the PDF Study Guide. Follow Dan Cruver on Twitter: @DanCruver

(HT: Together For Adoption)

The Biblical Counseling Coalition “exists to strengthen churches, para-church organizations, and educational institutions by promoting excellence and unity in biblical counseling as a means to accomplish compassionate outreach and effective discipleship.”  Their Confessional Statement provides a well-stated, biblically-rooted, gospel-centered philosophy for doing counseling ministry.  Click here to download the Confessional Statement in PDF format. Follow the Biblical Counseling Coalition on Twitter: @biblicalcc

(HT: Biblical Counseling Coalition)

Earlier today, one of the pastors at the church approached me for suggestions regarding a helpful resource for training young men in our church to become leaders within the body.  The resource that came to mind was Scott Thomas’ Theological Clarity and Application: Equipping Leaders in Biblical Doctrine.  This free resource uses Grudem’s Christian Beliefs: 20 Basics Every Christian Should Know to develop leaders who are practically equipped with theological clarity and sound doctrine to effectively minister in the church.  Click here to download the PDF workbook. Follow Scott Thomas on Twitter: @acts29

(HT: acts29)