Category Archives: Book Reviews

Heaven

Cover of "50 Days of Heaven: Reflections ...

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“In the truest sense, Christian pilgrims have the best of both worlds. We have joy whenever this world reminds of the next, and solace whenever it does not.” -C.S. Lewis

I am currently finishing up a devotional by Randy Alcorn entitled 50 Days of Heaven, Reflections That Bring Eternity to Light. The selections are drawn from his larger more theological treatise, Heaven. I read Heaven several years ago, and it is excellent. This much smaller book is written in a more devotional, meditative type format.

Many books and ideas about Heaven rest on mere sentimentality and fantasy. I appreciate that Mr. Alcorn builds his commentary on the solid foundation of biblical truth. Let me tell you, in this case truth is indeed more exciting and amazing than fiction! Alcorn uses Scripture to paint a picture of what Heaven will be like, and he is careful to point out where he fills in the details with his imagination or makes inferences from what the Bible says. Thankfully, this is NOT just another “I died and went to Heaven and came back to tell about it” book.

Reading about Heaven in this format has been enjoyable and informative. The short chapters lend themselves well to reflecting on what lies in store for all of us who have trusted Christ. Heaven certainly won’t be dull or boring. No floating around on clouds and strumming a harp all day there!

Although this devotional is a condensed version of a larger work, there is much to learn in it about what happens to us after we die. Mr. Alcorn makes the distinction between the present Heaven (to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord) and our future abode in Heaven on the New Earth (where we will receive our resurrected bodies and live on a redeemed and transformed New Earth forever).

This devotional has comforted and challenged me. It has prompted me to search the Scriptures to see if what Randy Alcorn says is true. Above all, it has clarified my understanding of what eternity holds, provided a much-needed broadening of  my eternal perspective, and stirred a longing in my soul for my true home, Heaven.

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Philippians 3:20

By His Grace and for the Gospel,
Terrie van Baarsel


Thinking About Thinking

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Book Review
Think, The Life of the Mind and the Love of God
John Piper, Crossway Books

“…loving God with all our mind means that our thinking is wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express the heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all things.” -John Piper

Loving God must engage both the heart and mind. In Think, The Life of the Mind and the Love of God, John Piper encourages believers to think deeply about God as a means to glorify and treasure Him above all things. Using one of America’s greatest thinkers, Jonathan Edwards, as an example; John Piper asserts that a well thought out understanding of truth will stimulate the heart to love God. In this book, Piper wisely attests that thinking to the glory of God is not mere intellectualism or amassing great knowledge for its own sake, but rather “that all thinking–all learning, all education, all schooling…exists for the love of God and the love of man” (p 21).

After reading this book, I have been thinking about the life of the mind as it pertains to knowing God. Although finite man can never say he has learned all there is to know about God, what he does know he can know truly. As we study and think about Scripture, our understanding of God increases, igniting the desire to obey and glorify Him. Of course, knowing God entails more than just memorizing a list of facts about Him. That kind of knowledge only puffs up. Knowing God happens in the context of relationship and that relationship is only made possible because of the Gospel.

Oh, how magnificently layered is the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Can a man ever get to the bottom of that? What better object deserving our attention than the Holy Spirit aided apprehension of Christ and His Gospel! Consider the Gospel treasure waiting to be discovered by a deliberate contemplation of it. Think of the Gospel as a banquet. Positioned at the head of the table is our beloved King bidding us to feast on one delectable morsel after another.

Piper’s book has been a great encouragement to me to grow in my knowledge of God. Let us join heart and mind for His fame and for His Glory!

“…You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  Matt 22:37

By His Grace and for the Gospel,
Terrie van Baarsel


A Prayer of Thanksgiving

This prayer was taken from The Valley of Vision, A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. This little book is filled with beautiful words of praise to God. I’m sharing this one with you in honor of Thanksgiving.

Oh my God,
Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects,
my heart admires, adores, loves thee,
for my little vessel is as full as it can be,
and I would pour out all that fullness before thee
in ceaseless flow.

When I think upon and converse with thee
ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up,
ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed,
ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart,
crowding into every moment of happiness.

I bless thee for the soul thou hast created,
for adorning it, sanctifying it,
though it is fixed in barren soil;
for the body thou hast given me,
for preserving its strength and vigour,
for providing senses to enjoy delights,
for the ease and freedom of my limbs,
for hands, eyes, ears that do thy bidding;
for thy royal bounty providing my daily support,
for a full table and overflowing cup,
for appetite, taste, sweetness,
for social joys of relatives and friends,
for ability to serve others,
for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities,
for a mind to care for my fellow-men,
for opportunities of spreading happiness around,
for loved ones in joys of heaven,
for my own expectation of seeing thee clearly.

I love thee above the powers of language to express,
for what thou art to thy creatures.

Increase my love, Oh my God,
Through time and eternity.

(From The Valley of Vision, p. 26)

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

By His Grace and for the Gospel,
Terrie


The Two Lost Sons

Kunsthistorisches Museum

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Book Review: THE PRODIGAL GOD/RECOVERING THE HEART OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
by Timothy Keller

“…one of the signs that you may not grasp the unique, radical nature of the gospel is that you are certain that you do.”
-Timothy Keller

In his book, The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller unpacks lessons to be learned from the familiar Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). Keller’s approachable and non-technical style open up the parable and help the reader interpret the story in a way that lays out the essentials of the Gospel message.

Keller suggests that although the parable is most often entitled “The Parable of the Prodigal Son”, it might more aptly be called, “The Parable of the Two Lost Sons.”  In seven short chapters Keller illustrates the prodigal (defined as recklessly extravagant) grace of God as it relates to both the moral bankruptcy of the younger brother and the self-righteous moralism of the elder brother.

Most people can readily see the lost condition of the younger brother, but Keller brings out the fact that the elder brother, relying on his own righteous behavior, is just as lost. He tells us that the world is full of “younger brothers and elder brothers,” people who attempt to find their “salvation” either by rejecting any moral restraints or by living lives of moral uprightness. Both ways end in failure and have dire eternal consequences.

Whether we can identify with the younger brother or the elder, both rebelled against their father as we have rebelled against our Heavenly Father. In The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller reminds us that unlike the younger brother in the story, we have been given a true and perfect elder brother in Christ, “one…who will come all the way from heaven to earth…one who is willing to pay not just a finite amount of money, but at the infinite cost of his own life to bring us into God’s family, for our debt is so much greater” (p 94-95).

My favorite part of the book is the last chapter entitled “The Feast of the Father.” Here Keller reminds us that salvation is experiential, material, individual, and communal. These four ideas correspond to the way the Gospel shapes and changes our lives.

I enjoyed this book very much. So much so that although I quickly read through it in 3 sittings the first time, I plan on re-reading it, slowing down and chewing on some of the timeless and glorious truths Timothy Keller draws from in this well-known Bible story. I highly recommend it for unbelievers who might be interested in exploring what Christianity is all about and for believers who will be challenged to re-think the familiar story and how it applies to the Gospel.

The book is thoughtfully written, intelligently laid out, and sets forth the Gospel message in a fresh and relevant way.

By His Grace and for the Gospel,
Terrie van Baarsel


In Search of God’s Will

One of the best things about Kevin DeYoung’s book on finding God’s Will in your life is the title:

JUST DO SOMETHING – A LIBERATING APPROACH TO FINDING GOD’S WILL
                                                                    or
How to make a decision without dreams, visions, fleeces, impressions, open doors, random Bible verses, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky, etc.

That’s not to say the actual content of the book is sub par, it definitely is not. In Just Do Something, Kevin DeYoung explains the difference between God’s will of decree (referring to what God has ordained), God’s will of desire (referring to what God has commanded), and God’s will of direction (referring to God’s specific plan for our lives). When we ask questions like, “What job should I take?”, “Where should I live?”, “Which college should I attend?”, or “Should I travel abroad or stay home on my vacation?”, we are asking God to show us the specific who, what, when or where for our lives. We are asking God to reveal to us His “will of direction.” De Young asserts that many Christians worry so much about missing God’s will that they either “tinker around” and never settle down or become so paralyzed in their uncertainty that they end up doing nothing.

Mr. DeYoung is quick to affirm that the Bible has already revealed God’s will to us. We are to love God, love others, and walk in obedience to our Lord. He also maintains that we should pray, ask for wisdom, and seek godly counsel. However, unless there is some moral reason why we should or should not do a particular thing, sometimes, as the title of the book suggests, it’s best to… just do something.

This little book (122 pages) is filled with Scripture and Biblical examples. The only slight criticism I can muster is that sometimes DeYoung’s advice can seem simplistic considering the complexities of life. But, Mr. DeYoung insists, and I agree, that believers can avoid the paralysis and confusion that often accompany seeking out God’s will by simply making a decision “confident that He’s already determined how to fit our choices into His sovereign will” (51).

Kevin DeYoung does a masterful job weaving together God’s Sovereignty over our decisions with our human responsibility to make them. I highly recommend this book. In fact, I plan to buy several copies and give them out as gifts to young people (i.e. high school or college students) who are just beginning to learn about making life decisions. DeYoung ends his book with the following words:

“So the end of the matter is this: Live for God. Obey the Scriptures. Think of others before yourself. Be holy. Love Jesus. And as you do these things, do whatever else you like, with whomever you like, wherever you like, and you’ll be walking in the will of God” (122).

By His Grace and for the Gospel,
Terrie van Baarsel


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