Links I like (weekend edition)

Get to know your Bible translations

Adam Ford nailed this:

2014-01-10-translations1

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Here are a few Kindle deals from the last week to check out:

Don’t Pray in Circles!

Tim Challies:

…it is from Honi that Batterson found the inspiration to begin praying in circles. In his book he describes many occasions in which he has prayed in circles and seen the Lord grant what he asked. The promise of his book is that it “will show you how to claim God-given promises, pursue God-sized dreams, and seize God-ordained opportunities. You’ll learn how to draw prayer circles around your family, your job, your problems, and your goals.”

I want to give you three reasons not to pray in circles in the manner Batterson prescribes.

Love Is Not a Verb

Jon Bloom:

But it’s still a massive and potentially dangerous oversimplification. If we reduce love to a verb, we will miss love completely. Making love a verb will likely make us Pharisees. Because just like you can talk loving without really loving, you can act loving without really loving. That’s what Paul meant when he said, “if I give away all I have and deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). We can look like we’re fulfilling 1 John 3:18 and still not love.

Genuine Love is Odd

When I refer to “Enemies, Big and Small,” obviously I am not thinking of their physical dimensions—bantam-weight enemies perhaps as opposed to three-hundred-pound enemies—but of the scale of their enmity. Not all Christians face persecuting enemies, but all Christians face little enemies. We encounter people whose personality we intensely dislike. . . . They are offensive, sometimes repulsive, especially when they belong to the same church. It often seems safest to leave by different doors, to cross the street when you see them approaching, or to find eminently sound reasons not to invite them to any of your social gatherings. And if, heaven forbid, you accidentally bump into such an enemy, the best defense is a spectacularly English civility, coupled with a retreat as hasty as elementary decency permits. After all, isn’t “niceness” what is demanded?

If we find our “friends” only among those we like and who like us, we are indifferentiable from first-century tax collectors and pagans. Both our neighborhood and the church will inevitably include their shares of imperfect, difficult people like you and me. In fact, the church will often collect more than its proportionate share of difficult folk, especially emotionally or intellectually needy folk, precisely because despite all its faults it is still the most caring and patient large institution around. There is a sense in which we should see in our awkward brothers and sisters a badge of honor. The dangers, however, become much greater (as do the rewards) when the church is richly multicultural, because the potential for misunderstandings rises significantly…

Some offenses are of the sort that Christians should follow the procedures set out in Matthew 18; in some cases, there should be excommunication. . . . But in many instances, what is required is simply forbearance driven by love. . . . To bear with one another and to forgive grievances presupposes that relationships will not always be smooth. Most of the time, what is required is not the confrontation of Matthew 18, but forbearance, forgiveness, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, or patience [of Col. 3:12-14]. Christians are to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15).

This action goes way beyond niceness. One thinks of Flannery O’Connor’s biting and hilarious stories with their “nice” Christian ladies who have a domesticated Jesus who approves all they do and all they hold dear. They are spectacularly “nice”; they are also whitewashed tombs (Matt. 23:27). . . . Forbearance and genuine tenderheartedness are much tougher than niceness, and sometimes (as we shall see in a later lecture) tough love is confrontational. Christian love, McEntyre writes, “may even demand that we be downright eccentric, at least if we are to believe O’Connor’s word on the subject: ‘You shall know the truth,’ she warned, ‘and the truth shall make you odd.’” That, of course, is implicitly recognized by Jesus himself. If genuine love among his followers is their characteristic mark (John 13:34-35), then Jesus himself is saying that such love is not normal. It is odd.

D.A. Carson, Love in Hard Places, pp. 52-54 (Also available in PDF format)

We Love by Choice, Not by Feeling

God has called every husband to lay down a sacrifice bunt for his wife, so to speak. On a day-to-day basis, this may simply mean not always having to have your way just because you’re the leader of the home. Sacrifice involves what is best for the other person, not necessarily what is best for us. Jesus gave up heaven to save us, not because He had to, but because He chose to.

Jesus’ sacrifice tells husbands what it means to love. We love by choice, not by feeling. . . . [L]oving your wife has little to do with whether you feel like being loving today. Biblical love is generated by the need of the person being loved, not necessarily the feeling or wishes of the one doing the loving.

Tony Evans, For Married Men Only: Three Principles for Loving Your Wife, p. 13

God Loved You By Calling You

The above is a powerful excerpt from John Piper’s final sermon before beginning his eight-month sabbatical, Consider Your Calling from 1 Cor. 1: 26-31:

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

I would highly recommend you listen to the whole thing as it’s quite moving and encouraging.

The following text is from the sermon’s transcript:

“For consider your calling, brothers.” What is Paul referring to? Their job? Being a carpenter? Homemaker? Teacher? No. He is referring to the work of God in calling them to himself out of darkness into light, out of death into life. You can see the meaning pretty clearly in verses 22-24:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. [Read more...]

Truth, Love and Jonathan Edwards

Continuing to think about Sinclair Ferguson’s talk from the 2008 Desiring God National Conference; in particular, about a reference he made that left an impression.

In his message, Ferguson shares four of Jonathan Edwards’ Resolutions, a series of seventy commitments he made in pursuit of living a life of godliness. These four, all dealing with the tongue, are as follows:

31. Resolved, Never to say anything at all against any body, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said anything against any one, to bring it to, and try it strictly by, the test of this Resolution.

34. Resolved, In narrations never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.

36. Resolved, Never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call to it.

70. Let there be something of benevolence in all that I speak.

These resolutions, so simply stated, hold such deep wisdom. And they’re integral to Christian character.

James 3:2-3 says that, “For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well” (emphasis mine).

We all stumble, particularly with our words, and no man but Christ has ever had perfect control over his tongue. But what is the “bit” by which we can guide it?

Love. [Read more...]

Book Review: Leading with Love

Title: Leading with Love
Author: Alexander Strauch
Publisher: Lewis & Roth Publishers

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have a prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor. 13:1-7)

We’ve all been to a wedding where the apostle Paul’s exposition on love has been the Scripture passage of choice (in fact, I’m pretty sure it was read at ours). But as often as it’s used in that context, pastor & author Alexander Strauch reminds us in Leading with Love that these words are not simply poetry:

They are divine commands.

In this book, Strauch shows readers the “more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31b), as he reminds us that we can do all things, but if they are done without love, they are worthless. “Love is indispensible to you and your ministry,” he writes on page 3. Love for God and love for people are to be our motivation. [Read more...]

The Love of God: Audio from St. Paul's United

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On August 15, 2009, it was my great privilege to preach at St. Paul’s United Church in Aylmer, Ontario. I am very grateful to my friend and co-worker Peter for the opportunity to share God’s Word with a great group of people.

You can also download an MP3 at the link below to listen to at your leisure.

The Love of God MP3 Audio

I hope you find the audio both profitable and enjoyable.

Update: For those who prefer or require a transcript, the text version follows: [Read more...]

Three Simple Letters

When thinking about why I trust the Scripture, I am reminded of the beauty of it’s words. There’s truly no other book as powerful and amazing as the Bible.

And do you know what is one of my favorite words in the whole Bible?

It’s not one that a lot of people really think about, because it’s an easy word to overlook. It’s three letters that are packed with power:

But

Look at 1 John 4:10: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (emphasis mine).

And check out Ephesians 2:1-6:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following m the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus… (emphasis mine)

Just in these two examples, we see the power of the word “but.” Without these three letters, we would not see the grace of God in these passages. “But,” as a conjugation, connects opposing ideas, or coordinates elements.

We cannot love God on our own… but He loved us and died for us so that we can!

We were condemned, dead in our sins… but God, in His mercy and grace, made us alive!

Without the intervention of God, we’d be left stranded on our own, lost in our sins. “But” shows God’s intervention on our behalf.

That’s why a word like “but” is so powerful.

I trust the Scriptures because even the most seemingly insignificant words are rich with meaning.

I hope you will find as much joy in the simple words as I do.

A Few Key Texts on Love

In his book Love or Die, Alexander Strauch provides a list of fifty key texts on love. I’ve greatly appreciated the reminder of the importance of the theme of God’s love, and thought I would share a few from Strauch’s survey:

Ex. 34:6
The Lord…proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…”

Deut. 6:5
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Deut. 7:7-8
It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you…but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers…

Jer. 31:3
I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

1 Cor. 13:2
If I…understand all mysteries and all knowledge…but have not love, I am nothing.

Eph. 5:2
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.

1 John 4:10
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

But, what is perhaps my favorite passage on God’s love (aside from 1 John 4:10) is Ephesians 2:4-10:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Whenever and wherever you’re reading this, it’s my great hope that you would find as much joy in reading and meditating on these passages as I have.

Book Review: Agape Leadership

agape-leadership

Recommended: Leadership fueled by Christlike love transforms everything it touches.

One of the greatest benefits of reading biographies of departed saints is learning from the experiences of people who you’d never have the opportunity to meet. R.C. Chapman is just such an individual. Relatively unknown today, Chapman is a man all believers would do well to see a role model in our pursuit of holiness.

In Agape Leadership: Lessons in Spiritual Leadership from the Life of R.C. Chapman, authors Robert L. Peterson and Alexander Strauch introduce us to Chapman and his commitment to not only preaching Christ, but living Christ.

And live Christ he did.

Chapman was a man committed to love. He loved God wholeheartedly, making prayer and study his top priority, every day. He exuded patience and gentleness. He loved people and desired to maintain unity within the church.

This book is a hard one to review in some ways. It has challenged me more than any other book I’ve read in about a year, and it’s just packed with helpful, timely material. But, one of the stories I found most helpful and intriguing was that of the Ebenezer Chapel split:

Ebenezer Chapel, a member of the Particular Baptist denomination, had gone through three pastors in eighteen months prior to Chapman’s arrival. The Particular Baptist denomination held that you could not receive communion or be a member (p. 29). Chapman, finding no basis for this in Scripture, believed that baptism was a response to and public witness of conversion, but not something that prevented a professing believer from membership or communion. He patiently and gently taught the Scriptures, and slowly brought about change within the congregation. Inevitably, though, there were some who would not agree with him and seceded from fellowship.

These seceders then demanded that Chapman’s group (the majority of the congregation) move out of the chapel building because it was no longer being used in accordance with Particular Baptist practices.

What was Chapman’s response? One would expect a fight; there was no provision in the building’s deed requiring them to move. Legally, they would be in the right to stay.

“Chapman decided that the loving, Christlike response would be to give up the building. He viewed the situation as equivalent to giving up one’s coat to someone who demanded it… the congregation relinquished their rights to the building in 1838″ (p. 33). Such a thing would be unheard of today!

But this is the example of  a man who truly loved God and truly loved people. He gave up his rights for the sake of love and unity. Amazing!

And that’s just one such example. As the congregation was in the process of purchasing a plot of land, the Church of England made a claim on it. When Chapman’s view of the last days came into conflict with that of his elders’, he refused to teach contrary doctrine for the sake of unity within the church(!).

Despite being a short and fast read, Agape Leadership is a difficult one because it’s so convicting. Chapman seemed to exude holiness (indeed, a complete stranger referred to him as a “holy man of God… who anyone can see is going straight to heaven” [p. 22]). Truth be told, I am reminded of how short I fall. But I’m also encouraged to pursue humility. To repent of my pride and my selfishness and love God with all my heart, my soul, my mind and my strength; to love my neighbor as myself.

Read this book and be transformed by the example of the man Spurgeon called, “the saintliest man I ever knew.”

Purchase your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

John Piper: God So Loved the World, Part 1

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Made in the Image of God: Wisdom, Emotions & Morality

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” Genesis 1:26

As we continue to look at humanity bearing the image and likeness of God, we come to the next way we image God: Through intellect, emotions and morality.

Wisdom and Knowledge

God is wise and full of knowledge. Several passages in the Bible speak to this truth, not the least of which is Isaiah 11:2, which says in anticipation of the coming of Jesus, “the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” Here God is spoken of (specifically God the Holy Spirit) as being the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, and of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

Like God, we have the ability to have knowledge and wisdom (cf. Prov. 1:7). Solomon, King of Israel, was the wisest man ever to live (cf. 1 Kings 4:30-34). Jesus commends the dishonest manager for his shrewdness in using unrighteous wealth to make friends for himself, commanding His followers to be wise in using money as well (cf. Luke 16:1-13). So we can have wisdom, and we can know truth.

What we cannot know all things fully, nor can we fully understand God’s reasons for why He does what He does. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9). The Apostle Paul states, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12). So while we cannot fully know yet, we are fully known.

[Read more...]

Book Review: Love or Die

love-or-die

The Revelation to John contains seven letters to the seven churches from Jesus, each with it’s own series of commendations and rebukes. The letter to the Ephesian church reads as follows:

“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned l the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of o the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches…” (Rev. 2:2-7, emphasis mine).

In Love or Die: Christ’s Wake-up Call to the Church, Alexander Strauch addresses both the theological and the practical implications of the abandonment of “the love [we] had at first” (Rev. 2:4), instructing his readers in both the problem of lost love and how to cultivate love within the church.

Regarding the problem, it’s not so much that the Ephesian church had stopped loving Jesus, it was that their love had become stale, mundane. “They still loved the Lord, but not like they did at first. They still loved one another, but not like before,” writes Strauch (p. 9). Their service was out of obligation, rather than joyful worship. Their study was, perhaps, merely academic, and not transformational. They lacked joy, spontaneity, energy, and creativity. When God’s people abandon their first love, they abandon their ability to love each other. Strauch rightly says that Jesus declares these two are inseparable companions.

But when our love for Christ is diminished, what happens? We tend to drift toward trusting “in external religious rituals, traditions, denominational distinctions, doctrinal correctness, and moralistic rules, while we overlook the essential, foundational elements of love for God and neighbor” (p. 19). We become like the Pharisees who “tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God” (Luke 11:42), Strauch warns. We must, therefore, remember “from where [we] have fallen; repent, and do the works [we] did at first” (Rev. 2:5). We must learn to rekindle our love for Christ and for people.

The second half of Love or Die focuses on how we can rekindle our love. Through the study of love, we gain a better understanding of what the Bible really says about this important issue of the Christian life. Strauch even helpfully provides an appendix containing 50 key texts on love for readers to study and meditate on. By praying “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” (Eph. 3:19), we gain not only an intellectual understanding of His love, but an experiential and ultimately life-changing knowledge of it. By praying that God would grow our love for others, it will grow and overflow. “The more we see how inherently and perversely selfish we are, the more we recognize our need to ask God to help us to love,” says Strauch (p. 39). By teaching love, in our corporate gatherings, homes and small groups, we nurture love. “If you want your local church to be a loving, caring, Christlike church, then you must plan to teach the full spectrum of God’s principles of love… Teach the truth of God’s Word and give people principles of love to follow” (p. 49). We further nurture love in our church and our relationships as we model love, encouraging love in others through our example. Scripture provides several examples of men and women worthy of imitation in this regard, as so the biographies of departed saints such as R.C. Chapman and C.H. Spurgeon. Ultimately though, modelling of Christlike love falls to our church leaders and to Christian parents, says Strauch.

“Church leaders set the tone for the church community. If church leaders love, the people will love. If they are thoughtful, kind and caring, the people will be [also]… If leaders create an environment of love and hold themselves and others accountable to love, the people will flourish spiritually and many will imitate their example” (p. 55). Parents, likewise, who love, serve and reach out to people will, usually, produce children who do likewise.

We must guard love, by guarding ourselves against the temptation to love something else more than we love Christ. As there are many contenders for our love for Christ, we must always be vigilant, guarding our love for Christ against everything, even the cares of “this present world” (2 Tim. 4:10). “When you sense your love falling to sleep, take corrective action immediately,” says Strauch. “The longer you wait, the harder it will be to awaken the spirit of love” (p. 62). Ultimately, we must be practitioners of love, not students. An academic knowledge of love is of no benefit if it does not transform our lives. Strauch rightly admonishes us that we must practice love and exhort others to do the same, just as the apostles did over and over again in their epistles. “Obedience to Christ’s commands to love leads to real growth in love” (p. 66). And as our love grows, so to will our joy.

I found this book to be incredibly helpful. Being both an introvert and an intellectually bent person, I was thoroughly convicted by Strauch’s loving and humble admonishment. The truth is, I struggle to love other people. I really (really!) like being alone. But if I’m not cultivating relationships with others and investing in them, encouraging my friends in their faith, I don’t really love them, do I? And if I only cultivate an intellectual knowledge of love, to the neglect of experiential knowledge of love, I don’t really know what love is, do I? I’m spending the next few days going through the study guide, spending time in the Scriptures and praying that God would grow my ability to love Him and others.

One who truly loves is not afraid to say something difficult. Alexander Strauch truly loves Jesus and truly loves the church. Read Love or Die; use the study guide. Study the Word and be transformed.


Title: Love or Die: Christ’s Wake-up Call to the Church
Author: Alexander Strauch
Publisher: Lewis & Roth (2008)