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Think Again: Relief From The Burden of Introspection

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Honest confession: I can be morbidly introspective. My devotional times, my prayer times- pretty much any time, you will find me being morbidly introspective. I often rehearse the day and all of my shortcomings and how I failed. I obsess over words that I said or didn’t say, I obsess over what others think of me, I obsess over how things might have been different had I acted different. It’s really sad, actually. And I’m a pastor! But I’m sure none of you struggle with this, right?

 

Well, I have good news for you if you do. If your self-examination turns into a cross-examination and you always end up hearing a guilty verdict, then I’ve got some good news for you. Actually, Jared Mellinger does in his new book, Think Again: Relief From The Burden Of Introspection.

 

I was thrilled to see that this book was coming out and very happy to review it here on my blog because this is a real struggle of mine. And Jared does not disappoint. He helps people see how paralyzing it is to live a life focused on self. He paints a wonderful picture of what true Gospel-centered freedom looks like when we focus on Jesus.

 

So if you’re a person who overdoses on introspection, then this is the rehab you’ve been looking for. If you find yourself obsessing over your looks, how people perceive you, second-guessing yourself, and replaying conversations in your head (who doesn’t do this?), then this book is for you. And in the end, Jared simply reminds you of what you already know: you need to keep your eyes on Jesus. You know that, right? Of course you do. You’ve heard the oft-cited Robert Murray McCheyne wisdom: “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ!” We’ve all heard that quote in sermons (heck, I’ve used it in my sermons!), we’ve re-tweeted it, we’ve liked it and hearted it and all that other social media stuff. But it’s a lot harder than it looks (pun intended). It’s a lot harder to “look at Jesus 10x for every gaze at your navel” than the preachers make it out to be- take it from this preacher.

 

So why get this book? Here’s why: Think Again tells you how to do it. It tells you how to keep your eyes on Jesus. It’s full of practical, Gospel-centered reminders that will help you quit obsessing over you. For instance, chapter 10 (“Self-forgetfulness”) alone is worth the price of the book. Jared gives hands-on experience in the art of losing yourself in many areas of life like worship, love, art, sports, preaching, and work.

 

But more than a book full of “how to’s” and practical tips, Think Again keeps reminding you about Jesus. And isn’t that what you’re looking for in a good book? Don’t you want to love Jesus more as you read the very last paragraph and close the book? Don’t you want to walk away from a book and think, “I just spent time with Jesus. And I love Him more now that I’m at the end notes than I did when I read the introduction”?

 

Well, Think Again does that. I cannot recommend it enough. Here are a few quotes to whet your appetite so you’ll go out and buy this thing and then fall more in love with Jesus:

 

The antidote to excessive introspection is not to completely forget myself, but to look more to the Lord Jesus Christ, which leads to thinking rightly- and less often- about myself. (p.12)

 

The irony of identity is that a clear view of yourself comes only as you learn to look away from yourself. (p. 18)

 

What we learn is that the gospel rescues us from self-hatred and self-esteem by destroying the idol of self and replacing it with Christ. (p.31)

 

Once self is made an idol, I will either view myself as awesome or as a failure. (p. 33)

 

Self-absorption is not always loud and self-promoting; it can also look shy and insecure. It does not always come in the form of thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought. It also comes in the form of thinking of ourselves more often than we ought. (p.48)

 

One more teaser and then you need to go get this book:

 

There is something appealing about a soul that delights in the Lord, serves others gladly, laughs at the days to come, and thinks far less often about how everything relates to self. This is who God made us to be. (p.49)

 

So what are you waiting for? Go pick up a copy or two of Think Again and help Jared by groceries for his family. Sorry, I had to write that last sentence because he has 6 kids like I do, so I feel his pain. Seriously, get this book and you’ll love Jesus more by the time you get to the endnotes. And then you can go serve others gladly, and laugh, and think far less about you. After all, this is how God made you to be. Let Think Again nudge you in that direction again.

 

To learn more about Jared or to purchase his book:

http://stores.newgrowthpress.com/think-again-by-jared-mellinger/

http://litfusegroup.com/author/JMellinger

Follow the conversation on Twitter:

@litfuse

@NewGrowthPress

@JMellinger

* I was given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for writing this review.

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God’s Heart Is Like An Oven

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How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. Hosea 11:8

I think these are some of the most beautiful words in Scripture. God’s people have continually turned away from the Lord (Hosea 11:7), and yet His heart moves toward them in compassion. Hosea tells us that Yahweh leads His people with cords of kindness:

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. Hosea 11:3-4

Puritan Walter Marshall said, “God does not drive you along with whips and terrors, or by the rod of the schoolmaster, the law. Rather, he leads you and draws you to walk in his ways by pleasant attractions (Hosea 11:3-4). The love of Christ…is the greatest and most pleasant attraction to encourage you to godly living (2 Cor. 5:15; Rom. 12:1).” (The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, p. 236)

And that is exactly what is happening here. Yahweh is revealing His heart for His rebellious children so as to allure them to love Him. His heart “recoils” within in Him when His people walk away from Him. This Hebrew word (hapak) is the same word that was used to describe Yahweh “overthrowing” Sodom and Gomorrah. Interestingly, Hosea mentions 2 suburbs of Sodom and Gomorrah here: Admah and Zeboiim. I assume he does this to startle God’s people. Perhaps they thought, “Admah and Zeboiim. Where’s that again? Oh, yeah. They were suburbs of Sodom and Gomorrah, which Yahweh overthrew.” 

When we run away from Jesus, His heart is overthrown with compassion and He moves out in tenderness toward us. Yes, He disciplines us (Hebrews 12:5-11), but His knee-jerk reaction is one of kindness. After all, what leads us to repentance? The law? The whips, terrors, and threats of the law? No! His kindness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).

And we see His kindness here in Hosea 11 because when we run away after other lovers, Yahweh’s compassion grows warm and tender. The Hebrew word for “warm” (kamar) is used of an oven heating up (Lamentation 5:10) and also when Joseph saw his brother Benjamin for the first time after all those years (Genesis 43:30). God’s anger does not flare up when we sin, rather His compassion does! His heart heats up like an oven, not with anger, but with compassion! This is why grace is amazing.

And that amazing grace should make you want to live for Him and His glory. That’s what His kindness is designed to do. As Charles Spurgeon said-

“While I regarded God as a tyrant I thought my sin a trifle; but when I knew Him to be my Father, then I mourned that I could ever have kicked against Him. When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so, and sought my good.”

May the warm and tender heart of Jesus warm your heart for Him today.

– Benji

George Muller: Happy in the Lord

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You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. Psalm 4:7

I have found the following words by George Muller to be very helpful to me over the years. May they encourage you to get your soul happy in the Lord! And don’t let his looks and awesome fauxhawk fool you.

It has pleased the Lord to teach me a truth, the benefit of which I have not lost for fourteen years. The point is this: I saw more clearly than ever that the first great primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, or how I might glorify the lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished…

 Before this time my practice had been, at least for ten years previously, as a habitual thing, to give myself to prayer after having dressed myself in the morning. Now, I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God, and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed…

 The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord’s blessing upon His precious Word, was to begin to meditate on the Word of God, searching as it were into every verse to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of public ministry of the Word, not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon, but for the sake of obtaining food for my soul. The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to supplication; so that, though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer. When thus I have been for a while making confession or intercession or supplication, or have given thanks, I go on to the next words or verse, turning all, as I go, into prayer for myself or others, as the Word may lead to it…

 By breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful if not happy state of heart.

Crippled

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Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. Isaiah 66:1-2

I recently wrapped up a study in Isaiah that refreshed my soul. In particular, the verses above in the last chapter of Isaiah have brought me much comfort. What’s so startling about this passage is the contrast between who God is in all of His power and yet He is concerned with the broken. Heaven is God’s throne and the earth is His footstool, so could we ever build a house that would be fitting? Of course not. But even if we could, God is not interested in living in tents, houses, or temples. God is not interested in houses, rather, He’s interested in hearts- our hearts.

Isaiah is telling us that this all-powerful King doesn’t look to the mighty. He doesn’t look to the powerful. He doesn’t look to the wise. He looks to the humble, the broken. In fact, the phrase “contrite in spirit” is literally “crippled” (nekeh) in the Hebrew language. It’s the same word that is used to describe Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s crippled boy (2 Samuel 4:4; 9:3). This word comes from the root word, nakah, which means, “to strike” and it often occurs in the context of fighting and war. So if a person is “crippled in spirit” it means that they have been wounded, and they need help, and they cannot make it on their own.

So what Isaiah is doing is giving us a picture of how merciful and gracious Jesus is toward sinners. He looks to the humble, the one crippled in spirit, the one who cannot make it on their own, the one who trembles at His word. That means that if you have been beat up by life, if you’re broken, if you’re falling apart at the seams, Jesus sees you. He sees and knows your pain. He comes to you. He comes to heal, to carry, to strengthen.

What good news for those beat up by the storms of life! Jesus sees and knows and cares. Humble yourself today. Tremble at His word. And take comfort that Jesus sees everything and He’s working through it all to bring you good.

Benji

Im + Anu + El = With Us God

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Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14

“Immanuel, God with us.” This is what Isaiah and the God-fearing people in his day were clinging to. They were clinging to the promise that God would be with them. As the nation of Assyria trampled on Judah and all seemed hopeless, they had a promise that they could hold onto: God is with us! Immanuel!

And isn’t that the way it always is for God’s people? We always cling to God’s promises. Certainly Joseph and Mary needed this assurance of Immanuel, because in Matthew 2 King Herod wanted to kill baby Jesus. Joseph and Mary would need the promise of Immanuel, God with us, in chapter 2 because the most powerful person in the entire world at that time, King Herod, would put a bounty out on their baby’s head! So they needed this promise of Immanuel! And isn’t that the way it always is for God’s people all the time? “God with us” is all that holds us up when we feel like life is going to swallow us up!

One name in the Hebrew language, Immanuel, translated with 3 simple words into English, God with us, can give you all the hope you need this Christmas- Immanuel, God with us. In the darkest times of your life- Immanuel, God is with you. In those moments when you feel like life is falling apart- Immanuel, God is with you. When you are so overwhelmed with life and you think that you just can’t go on- Immanuel, God is with you. When you find yourself in situations that are just so overwhelming and you don’t even know what to do, where to begin, what to say, how to respond, and you just feel hopeless, and maybe even feel like dying- Immanuel, God is with you. When you are at the end of your rope- Immanuel, Jesus, God is with you.

And what I love about the name Immanuel is that it is made up of 3 parts in the Hebrew language. Immanuel is composed of the preposition “with” (im) and affixed to the preposition is the 1st common plural pronominal suffix (anu). And then the name “El”- which means God– gets attached to the end.

Preposition: Im = with

1st common plural pronominal suffix: anu = us

The name: El = God

The Hebrew grammar may be confusing or boring, but it’s one of the most beautiful words in Hebrew! And it just might be what you need for Christmas this year! Maybe the thing that you need for Christmas is a Hebrew preposition and the Hebrew 1st common plural pronominal suffix! And when you take a Hebrew preposition and you attach the Hebrew 1st common plural pronominal suffix to it and then you attach to it God’s name, what you get is a Hebrew promise that God is with you!

Sometimes that’s all you have…. but it’s all you need. God is with you. Sometimes that’s all you have…. but it’s all you need. Immanuel. God with us. And it’s not just some theology. It’s not just a doctrine. And it’s not just a name that is composed of a Hebrew preposition and the Hebrew 1st common plural pronominal suffix attached to the name of God. It’s more than that. It’s a person! It’s Jesus! Jesus is Immanuel, God with us! That might be just enough to get you through whatever it is that you are going through today. Jesus is with you right now!

Sometimes all you can do is just keep saying over and over again, “God is with me. God is with me. God is with me. God is with me.” You might want to try that the next time you get stressed out or worried or scared to death. It’s true. Merry Christmas!

Like Father, Like Son- Pete Alwinson

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I did not sleep at all last night. Not a wink. One of our kids was sick so I spent my sleeping hours repeatedly cleaning up vomit and scrubbing the bathroom floor, the toilet, the sink, etc with disinfectant and bleach. I suppose that’s what a good parent does. It’s what a good dad does. They sacrifice for their children. And that’s exactly what Pete Alwinson says in his new book Like Father, Like Son: How Knowing God as Father Changes Men

 

The adventure of sacrificial fathering begins right at birth when the welcoming of a totally dependent, fragile newborn rocks the new mom and dad’s world. Sleep deprivation, unfamiliar noises, and never-ending messy new jobs conspire with inexperience to keep parents off-balance. (p. 106)

 

That was my night last night: sleep deprivation, unfamiliar noises, and never-ending messy new jobs. But that’s what a father does. He sacrifices. He cares.

 

But please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not trying to toot my horn here. I’m a sinner. I don’t think that I’m a “great dad.” I struggled to get up each time and help my son and then clean up all the mess. But I’m telling you this in order to show you that this is exactly what our heavenly Father does for us. We get sick with sin, we throw up everywhere, and He comes and cleans up the mess we have created with His grace. That’s what God is like. And that’s what Pete Alwinson’s new book is like. He keeps telling us what God the Father is like.

 

Now, a disclaimer must be noted here. I first heard of Pete about 6 or 7 years ago and I began listening to his sermons. Pete’s sermons are winsome, engaging, practical, and Gospel-centered. So when I began reading his new book, I had very high expectations. And he did not let me down. This book is typical Pete Alwinson (as much as you can know someone through their sermons!). And the last chapter, “The Grace-giving Father,” is typical Pete and worth the price of the entire book. And it will set you free! And isn’t that what you’re looking for in a good book?

 

Listen, I have grown tired of all the “manly father” books that give me a list of things to do. I’m tired of them because when I do the list, I get prideful. And when I don’t do the list? Depression. Sadness. Guilt. Shame. Like Father, Like Son is not one of those books. It’s a book that tells you the very simple secret to fatherhood: knowing God. That’s the key to being a godly, albeit sinful, father: knowing God the Father. That’s what this book is about. Pete describes the difference that knowing your heavenly Father makes:

 

Well, here’s the good news— you have a perfect heavenly Father! It makes all the difference in the world when you realize that God is your father, the most important father in your life. God the Father and God as Father is the truly irreplaceable Father. When we start relating to God as Father, it’s absolutely amazing how it transforms us and changes our lives for the better. That’s the bottom line thesis of this book. (p. 9)

 

As soon as I read that paragraph, I immediately thought of a something that A.W. Tozer said. So in the margin of my book, I wrote “Tozer.” Then a few pages later, Pete quoted Tozer’s very words: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

 

That’s why you need to read this book. That’s why you need to give this book to every man that you know- because what they think about God determines everything in their life. If they don’t know God the Father, they are missing out. It’s only as we know God the Father that we will ever be the men and fathers that He has created us to be. It’s when we find our identity in our relationship with our heavenly Father that we will begin to experience true freedom.

 

So what are you waiting for? It’s “Cyber Monday.” Go by this book! And get to know your heavenly Father- the One who sent His Son Jesus to live and die for us- the One who gave us His Spirit- the One who cleans you up after you stuff yourself with sin and make a mess of your life.

To learn more about Pete or to purchase his book:

http://stores.newgrowthpress.com/like-father-like-son-how-knowing-god-as-your-father-changes-men/

http://litfusegroup.com/author/palwinson

* I was given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for writing this review.

As a Breast Desires to Empty Itself…

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I’ve been on quite a few missions trips to West Africa and one thing that you cannot miss when you are there is the freedom that African women have to breastfeed in public. I remember once, after preaching in public to a large crowd, that a woman came forward and told me that she wanted to trust in Christ. As we were praying together, I heard her baby getting fussy, and I opened my eyes and she just pulled down her top and started nursing. That’s certainly something that I’ve never countered in the American church!

And it was after one of my trips to Africa in 1994 that I painted the painting above- “Mother’s Milk.” It was one of the main pieces at my senior art show in college, too. And it (and many other paintings of mine) were banned at the Christian college that I went to. I had to pull them down because they were too controversial. Life as an artist in the (Southern) church…

So I’ve painted a number of paintings through the years of women breastfeeding. It has been one of my motifs that I often return to. And it’s a motif that the Puritans picked up on as well. We tend to shy away from the imagery (probably because of our over-sexualized culture), but the Puritans knew that breastfeeding was beautiful a picture to show the love of God for sinners like us. Here’s how one of my favorite Puritan pastors, Richard Sibbes, describes the love of Jesus…

Doth he come empty? No; he comes with all grace. His goodness is a communicative, diffusive goodness. He comes to spread his treasures, to enrich the heart with all grace and strength, to bear all afflictions, to encounter all dangers, to bring peace of conscience, and joy in the Holy Ghost. He comes, indeed, to make our hearts, as it were, a heaven. Do but consider this. He comes not for his own ends; but to empty his goodness into our hearts. As a breast that desires to empty itself when it is full; so this fountain hath the fulness of a fountain, which strives to empty his goodness into our souls. He comes out of love to us. Let these considerations melt our hearts for our unkindness, that we suffer him to stand so long at the door knocking, as it is said here. Sibbes, R. (1862). The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes. (A. B. Grosart, Ed.) (Vol. 2, p. 67). Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet And Co.; W. Robertson.

The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus doesn’t come to us empty. He comes with grace. And He doesn’t come to us for something that He can get out of it. He’s not self-centered in His giving. He doesn’t come to us for His own ends- He comes to empty His goodness into our hearts! And just like a breast that is full and ready to empty itself of its milk, so too Jesus is ready to fill us with His goodness. He is an overflowing fountain, dare I say, an overflowing breast, that desires to fill His hungry children with His milk.

Think about that today. It will melt your heart.

– Benji