Book Review – “God’s Battle Plan for the Mind” by David W. Saxton

God’s Battle Plan for the Mind (Reformation Heritage Books, 2015) is a compelling call for believers to return to the lost art of biblical meditation, and to recognize this as the chief means of spiritual growth in each of our lives. In these 145 pages, Pastor David Saxton combs deeply through the writings of the Puritans, showing clearly and persuasively that meditation, though largely neglected among believers in our own day, has historically been  regarded as the most important of all the Christian disciplines, as well as one of the chief ways of discerning the spiritual health of a Christian.

In the foreword, Dr. Joel Beeke (the president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary) likens a Christian who fails to meditate on Scripture with a person who is presented with a gourmet meal but is unable to have the joy and benefit of tasting even a single bite for themselves. A similar distinction is made throughout the book, reminding us that it’s not enough to only read or hear God’s Word in a passing manner (though both reading and hearing Scripture are important!), but that we must also be intentional about contemplating that Word for ourselves and applying it directly to our lives.

The author explains that, in many respects, modern Christianity has increasingly become superficial and weak. He adds that we can respond to this growing problem in either one of two ways – we can either “adapt and concede to the reality of anemic Christianity,” or we can “return to true biblical spirituality – a serious focus on putting God’s Word to practice in one’s own experience” (1). This latter response – which is the only God-honoring response for believers – is known as “biblical meditation, or, the doctrine of Christian thinking” (1-2). With this in mind, Saxton explains “The goal of this book is to convince God’s people of the absolute necessity of personal meditation. The book will motivate the believer to begin this work; teach practically how to meditate on divine truth; and guide in right patterns of thinking throughout the day” (2).

The book begins by expressing to readers the vital importance of biblical meditation, explaining, in the words of Thomas Watson, that “Without meditation the truth of God will not stay with us; the heart is hard, and the memory slippery, and without meditation all is lost; meditation imprints and fastens a truth in the mind…” A further plea comes to us from Richard Baxter, that “if you would but set yourselves to consider of what you hear or read, one line of a chapter, or one sentence of a sermon, would lay you into tears, or make you groan, or at least do more than is now done” (6).

In the Puritan days, biblical meditation was regarded as the “nucleus of the Puritan devotional life, ” the “supreme means of grace,” and “the most important aspect of private Christian devotion” (5). However, it’s even more convicting for us to consider that when the Lord spoke to Joshua before he led God’s people into the Promised Land (and into battle), “that his greatest need was to live by meditating upon God’s word” (7), and that very likely, “David was called a man after God’s own heart because he meditated” (11, emphasis added). With such remarkable God-honoring leaders being led by God into a deeper knowledge of his Word, who are we to regard it with less value in our own lives?

Equally convicting counsel comes on every page of this book! Here, we learn that true meditation is challenging work, requiring both time and effort on our part, though the reward makes it more than worth the effort.  William Bridge highlights this truth as follows: “As it is a soul-satisfying work, so this work of meditation to a gracious soul is a most delightful work. What greater delight than to think on that God in whom he doth most delight?….Though it be hard in regard of its practice, yet it may be sweet and delightful in regard to its profit…” (13).

We also discover that even those of us who’ve not been intentional about meditating on God’s Word have nonetheless practiced meditation. The author writes, “everyone meditates on something. We either learn to practice and benefit from biblical meditation, or we inevitably allow our minds to wander dangerously through sinful or depressing thoughts” (15). More directly, Edmund Calamy chastens his fellow believers for our poorly directed contemplation, first by declaring, “Let us mourn before the Lord that we have misplaced our meditation.” He then instructs, “Now mourn before your God heartily, and go into your closets and bemoan it….You have been meditating all your lives long upon vain things, and have not meditated upon the things of eternity” (16).

After considering further what makes for unbiblical meditation, Saxton looks closely at what God’s Word teaches us about genuine, Christ-glorifying meditation and then turns again to the Puritans, whose comments on these biblical truths continue to enrich our study of this important doctrine. Remaining chapters consider the different types of Christian meditation (occasional and deliberate, with both being important, but daily, deliberate meditation being deemed most crucial by the Puritans), specific counsel regarding how to meditate in a biblical way, the specific benefits of Christian meditation and the “enemies” (such as busy-ness and entertainment) which are most likely to prevent us from meditating on Scripture as Scripture itself (and, of course, Scripture’s divine Author!) instructs us to do.

In every portion of this book, we are lovingly and biblically exhorted to make God’s Word the supreme authority of not only our church lives, but our daily lives as well. We are likewise warned that to neglect to do this makes us (to quote R. Kent Hughes) “Christians without Christian minds, Christians who do not think Christianly” (134). Personally, I have been deeply challenged – by both Saxton and the Puritan authors whose works he quotes – to intentionally carve out more time not only for reading God’s Word, but for meditating on it as well, and I have no doubt that other readers will be similarly convicted and blessed as they read this material for themselves.

On the back cover of the book, an endorsement from John MacArthur encourages that believers should, “…get a copy, read it, put its principles into practice, and ‘be transformed by the renewal of your mind.'” I whole-heartedly agree, and further believe that the church of Jesus Christ will be greatly strengthened and made far less “superficial” as her members read and apply the soul-stirring contents of this book!

NOTE: I received this book for free from Reformation Heritage Books (through Cross-Focused Reviews) in exchange for my preparation of this honest review of the book.  However, I was not required to write a positive review of the book.

Advertisements

Book Review – “Bible Revival” by Kenneth Berding

Bible Revival book cover

To begin with, the publisher who has produced this recent work is new themselves, and – based on this work – I imagine that we’ll be hearing about many more exciting books from them in the days to come! Weaver Book Company (not to be confused with Weaver Press, which is based in Zimbabwe) was established in 2013 by Jim Weaver, an established veteran of the Christian academic publishing world, who formerly served such highly respected publishing houses as Baker, Kregel, and Thomas Nelson. His most admirable goal in this new publishing venture is “to take the riches of the academy and make them accessible to the church” (https://www.weaverbookcompany.com/about/history-and-staff) – a goal which I believe is successfully reached in this book.

Bible Revival, by Kenneth Berding, is a short (121 page) and extremely accessible book calling direct attention to the current famine of God’s Word among believers, and reminding us of the vital place that Scripture should have in the life of every believer. In keeping with the goals of both the publisher and the author, this is a practical rather than academic work, obviously written from the perspective of an author who personally loves God’s Word and desires for other believers to do so as well. He hopes to accomplish this by offering us these six chapters, each of which considers one of the major obstacles preventing believers from growing in their knowledge of God’s Word and then offers practical solutions for overcoming these obstacles in our own lives.

From the outset, the undeniable problem is acknowledged:

“Christians used to be known as ‘people of one book.’ Sure, they read, studied, and shared other books. But the book they cared about more than all others combined was the Bible. They memorized it, meditated on it, talked about it, and taught it to others. We don’t do that anymore, and in a very real sense we’re starving ourselves to death.” (16)

Just to make sure that we’re good and convicted about this, though, Berding compares our current situation to similar experiences in the time of the Old Testament writings:

“In the book of Amos, people who experienced a ‘famine of hearing the words of the Lord’ are portrayed as undergoing divine judgment. Amos paints a picture of people without access to God’s revelation searching for a message from God like desperate people – hungry and dehydrated – in search of food and water (Amos 8:11-12). In Amos they want it, but are not permitted it. In our case, although we have unlimited access, we often don’t want it. The irony is intense. Who would deliberately and knowingly put himself under God’s judgment?” (19)

Thankfully, this book is filled with convicting passages like these – which may be just what we need to shake us from our spiritual lethargy and drive us to once again make God’s Word the priority in our lives that it truly needs to be!  Better than merely convicting readers, though, the author also provides us with great wisdom regarding how we should move past all of our various excuses for neglecting God’s Word and restore God’s Word to its rightful place as the authoritative guide for our lives.

In these chapters, we are freshly challenged – and helped – to overcome all of the obstacles that keep us from engaging with God’s Word on a daily basis. These obstacles include distractions and busy-ness (chapter 1), concerns about the Bible’s sufficiency for our lives (chapter 2), the common struggles with understanding, applying, and obeying God’s Word as we should (chapters 3 – 5), and the far too frequent unwillingness to incorporate God’s Word into our daily conversations with others (chapter 6).

In all of these ways, countless believers have allowed God’s Word to become virtually non-existent in their daily lives – especially when they aren’t gathered with the saints for weekly worship. Yet, in these pages, the author reminds us of the Bible’s unswerving insistence that genuine Christ-followers spend significant time encountering God in his written Word, and by the end of the book we have been greatly inspired to do so!

Each chapter concludes with a prayer for God to help us increase our commitment to the Bible, as well as questions for review to help us reflect on what we’ve just read. At the end of the book, there is a helpful appendix to help us learn to better memorize portions of Scripture (a crucial aspect of overcoming biblical illiteracy!), as well as a brief description of a forthcoming program intended to help believers and churches grow in their overall knowledge of the Bible.

Though an easy read and not necessarily filled with vast amounts of “new information”, this book serves as a powerful and inspiring reminder that a significant portion of our lives should be devoted to the reading, studying, memorizing, and applying of God’s Word, and enables us to freshly commit ourselves to setting Scripture as the priority in our lives that it needs to be.  What better purpose could a modern book serve?

NOTE: I received this book for free from Weaver Book Company (through Cross-Focused Reviews) in exchange for my preparation of this honest review of the book.  However, I was not required to write a positive review of the book.

Giving Thanks to God for the Life and Legacy of Charles Spurgeon (with some help from Shai Linne)

Today marks the 122’nd anniversary of the homegoing of the “Prince of Preachers”, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Truly, this man earned his title! He was devoted to God and committed to the faithful proclamation of God’s Word in a way that should both humble and inspire even the most respected pastors in our own day. The incredibly rich heritage of sermons, books, and articles which he left behind continues to bless the lives of all who read them.

Though it may seem surprising to some readers of this blog, one the most exciting and profound (not to mention concise) introductions to the life of Spurgeon comes to us in the form of a rap music video. Christian rapper Shai Linne, who has been influenced in his own spiritual growth by the expository preaching of men like Mark Dever, John MacArthur, and John Piper, has delivered an inspiring overview of Spurgeon’s life in this song that lasts less than five minutes!

So, will you please take a few minutes to listen to the story of Spurgeon’s life as told by Shai Linne? If you’re able to do this, then I hope you will be inspired by the example of what one person’s life can potentially accomplish for God (whether called to serve in full-time ministry or not) when that person submits their life fully to God and pursues his calling on their life with all zeal, passion, and joy! Thanks be to God for his bold witnesses like Spurgeon – and may he yet raise up many more “Spurgeons” who are passionate to spread the gospel of Christ in our own day, as well!

John Stott Called to Glory

John Stott photoOne of the most beloved teachers of God’s Word (and one of my personal favorites), Dr. John R. W. Stott died yesterday.  He died at the age of 90 as a result of complications related to old age, and Dr. Stott’s friends and family say that, while the loss is tremendous, they’ve been preparing for this to happen for the past 15 years.   There are many articles reflecting upon this, but here’s the one of the most significant ones, published in Christianity Today – http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/julyweb-only/john-stott-obit.html.

I  join with many others who are saddened by the loss, but I also rejoice at the amazingly full life that Dr. Stott led, the wealth of rich, biblical teaching that he left behind, and the countless lives that he’s touched by both his public proclamation of the gospel and his personal interaction with people around the world.  There was certainly a doctrine or two that I would’ve disagreed with him on (most specifically his belief in annihilationism as a solution to the problem of eternal suffering in Hell), but – in spite of this fact – I still count him as one of my very favorite proclaimers of biblical truth, and I hope to follow his fine example in many ways.

If you have never read (or heard) anything by Dr. Stott, then I certainly hope that you will permit this sad moment to motivate you to do so.  Among the books that I would most recommend from him are the following:

1. Basic Christianity – As the title indicates, this is a basic overview of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith – a classic which has sold millions of copies over the years.

2. Baptism and Fullness – His treatment of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit – Again, a classic of the Christian faith with a very broad circulation.

3. The Contemporary Christian – A motivational look at how to reach our culture for Jesus by “double-listening”, or carrying the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.  We must first determine the needs of our particular community, and then faithfully proclaim the gospel to them in a language that they can all understand clearly.

4. Christian Mission in the Modern World – A basic, yet very comprehensive study of the theology of Christian missions.

5. The Cross of Christ – Possibly the most “scholarly” book that Stott published, yet also his most significant.  A wonderful, deep, and biblical study of the most significant event in human history – and a book which has changed many lives over the years.

Even though I had recommended some of these same titles to you months back, I couldn’t let this extremely significant moment in history pass by without attempting to do so once more.  I, for one, will miss John Stott greatly, but I am so thankful that the Lord has worked through the writing, preaching, and teaching of Dr. Stott (as well as through a personal visit that I was blessed to have with him once, years ago) to help me grow in my own faith, sharpen my convictions, and develop a greater passion to live out biblical truth in every area of my life.  I look forward to “feasting” on the rich, biblical teaching of Dr. Stott’s for many years to come, and will hope to help pass on his teaching to the coming generations of biblical students.

Time….definitely NOT on my side!

Truly, I have no idea WHAT the Rolling Stones were thinking when they penned a song declaring that, “Time is on my side..”.  If they were singing that in sincerity, then their lives must have been far less demanding and complicated than my own – and mine isn’t even that bad, compared to the lives of many people I know!  Every single day, I wake up with a list of about ten things that MUST get accomplished, and then sixteen or so hours later, I realize that – despite my best efforts – I haven’t even passed the half-way point in my list.  It’s a daily – hourly – struggle.  If time has EVER really been “on my side”, then I must have been too busy catching up on my list to notice.

In truth, if I were to select a song that more accurately reflects my own daily schedule, it would probably be “Fly Like an Eagle” by the Steve Miller Band, which reminds us (in words a bit more faithful to Scripture, I think), “Time keeps on slipping…into the future.”  As the opening chapter of Ecclesiastes so poetically explains to us, the world continues to maintain a regular pattern – the earth spins, the wind blows, the streams flow, the sun sets, and people die.  Time keeps marching steadily on, we are all painfully aware of this, and there’s not one single thing that any one of us can do about it.

It’s a sad truth….but, it IS a truth.  So then, what’s the good news behind this constant source of stress in our lives?  God is still sovereign!  Thankfully, though, most of the disappointing things about our lives – including its brevity – finds redemption when seen in light of the love, mercy, grace, and faithfulness of our loving heavenly Father.   We can be thankful that God’s Word offers clear, comforting passages that teach us how best to value the time that we do have.  Since many of you will likely be – like me – too busy to take time to read a lengthy article on the internet, I will limit the remainder of this article to just a few biblical passages upon which we should be meditating already.  If you feel stressed and frustrated because of the time constraints in your own day, then prayerfully consider the following passages:

“For man does not know his time.  Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them. ” (Ecclesiastes 9:12-13)

“Wait for the LORD and keep his way….” (Psalm 37:34)

“This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.” (Joshua 1:8)

“He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7)

“…pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)

“…in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139:16)

…and, of course, there are plenty more verses that could be added here.  Regardless of which verses you might would include in this list, though, God’s Word gives us some clear reminders that we are to be seizing the opportunities that God leads us to, living life to its very fullest, enjoying the good gifts which God has bestowed upon us, and – ALWAYS – thanking God for the ways that he blesses us, as well as for who he is.  May God continue to richly bless each of us as we make further efforts to fight the clock, focus our time on the most significant items on our daily checklists, and – most of all – seize every moment that we can for the glory of God.