Favorite Books of 2018

S C R I P T U R E
The book of Daniel
The gospel of Mark
The letter to the Philippians


P O E T R Y
The Holy Sonnets by John Donne (reread)
Every Riven Thing by Christian Wiman
Hapax by A. E. Stallings


F I C T I O N
Blood Meridian, Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy (reread)
The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather


P H O T O G R A P H Y
Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty
Avedon Fashion: 1944-2000
A Constructed View: The Architectural Photography of Julius Shulman


C H R I S T I A N  L I V I N G  &  T H E O L O G Y
Art for God’s Sake by Philip Graham Ryken
Knowing God by J. I. Packer
On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius


O T H E R  N O N – F I C T I O N
Short Trip to the Edge: A Pilgrimage to Prayer by Scott Cairns
He Held Radical Light: The Art of Faith, the Faith of Art by Christian Wiman
Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr.

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Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul David Tripp

Paul David Tripp is a Christian pastor, counselor, speaker, and author. He wrote this book, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, in order to show his readers “how God uses people, who are themselves in need of change, as instruments of the same kind of change in others” (p. xi).


This is the table of contents of the book to show you a skeleton of the book as a whole:

  • Preface
  • The Best News: A Reason to Get Up in the Morning
  • In the Hands of the Redeemer
  • Do We Really Need Help?
  • The Heart Is the Target
  • Understanding Your Heart Struggle
  • Following the Wonderful Counselor
  • Building Relationships by Entering their World
  • Building Relationships by Identifying with Suffering
  • Getting to Know People
  • Discovering Where Change Is Needed
  • The Goals of Speaking the Truth in Love
  • The Process of Speaking the Truth in Love
  • Establishing Agenda and Clarifying Responsibility
  • Instilling Identity with Christ and Providing Accountability

One central premise of this book is that all Christians are called to ministry. No, Tripp does not mean to make the claim that all Christians are called to professional, full-time ministry. That is an unhealthy rumor and belief in certain parts of the Church. What Tripp means is that all Christians are called to minister to those around them in everyday life, whether they are an architect, teacher, or pastor. Christians, in their need of change, are called to help those around them in need of change.

There is a way we need to speak about change to others, a way to show change to others. We cannot just tell people that there are ways that they can “get better.” We must tell them about the Redeemer who changes people for His glory and  for their good. We can’t just show people that certain steps elicit change, but that there is a person who changes us. Tripp puts it this way:

We cannot treat the Bible as a collection of therapeutic insights. To do so distorts its message and will not lead to lasting change. If a system could give us what we need, Jesus would never have come. But he came because what was wrong with us could not be fixed any other way. He is the only answer, so we must never offer a message that is less than the good news. We don’t offer people a system; we point them to a Redeemer. He is hope.

(p. 9; bold mine)

God doesn’t just want any unnamed individual ministering to the people around you, He wants you to do that. There is something about you, in your need and imperfection, in your gifts and specialty, that God wants to use in order to make others and yourself more like Him.

“God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things in the lives of others.” (p. 18)

“God transforms people’s lives as [they] bring his Word to others.” (p. 19)

Many have heard of the Creation/Fall/Redemption/Glory concept of the world. This is a Biblical understanding of the universe that shows us how God created us, how man fell in sin, how Jesus Christ came to redeem his people, and how we will join the Triune God in eternal glory when Christ comes again. It is a narrative conception of the world that is based in Scripture. One big misconception about Christianity is our need of God, what Tripp’s book is mainly about. The misconception is that we need God because of our fall from grace. No, we were created in need of God. Yes, we need God in new ways because of our sin. Nevertheless, we were created to be dependent on the Triune God. We needed God before we were in sin.

Tripp calls his readers to these two separate but intertwined prayers:

“God, I am a person in desperate need of help. Please send helpers my way and give me the humility to receive the help you have provided.”

“Lord, make me willing to help someone see himself as you see him today.”

(p. 54)

Even though we needed God as created, unfallen creatures, we need God even more now that we are in sin. “Sin is much more than doing the wrong thing. It begins with loving, worshiping, and serving the wrong thing” (p. 67, italics mine). Sin is not action in isolation. Sin exists as a result of those things we love, worship, and serve (when that which we love, worship, and serve is not God Himself). These idols have “inescapable influence” over us, and they are why behavior modification is not the way to deal with sin. God must change my heart; He must rule my heart, rather than my idols ruling my heart, in order for me to move away from sin.

[God] knows what is best, and he will not let there be peace until he alone controls our hearts. He is a Warrior King, who will not rest when we are captive to other kings. He fights for us, for the thoughts and desires of our heart.

(p. 83)

God has called us to incarnate Christ to others. We are to imitate Christ in his incarnation, God being made flesh:

The power of the incarnation is that it makes the presence and glory of God visible. By taking on flesh and blood, Christ made known the unseen God.

(p. 97)

Thus, the goal of Biblical, personal ministry is “for the world to see and know Christ” (p. 102). We are to make God visible to others — this is what it means for us to incarnate God to others.

Tripp lays out a methodically flexible way to minister to those around us with the above goal in mind:

  • We are to love those around us
    • Enter the person’s world
    • Incarnate the love of Christ to them
    • Identify with their suffering
    • Accept them with the agenda of change in Jesus Christ
  • We are to know those around us
    • Ask them good questions
    • Think and pray about this person with Scripture in you
  • We are to speak into the lives of those around us
    • Speak the truth in love to them (which includes both affirmation and confrontation — we are called to COMFORT and CONFRONT)
    • Call this person to consideration, confession, commitment, and change
  • We are to act in the lives of those around us
    • Establish your personal ministry agenda (stemming from God’s agenda for change in Jesus Christ)
    • Clarify responsibility
    • Instill identity in Christ
    • Provide accountability

This method of personal ministry must be enacted with the knowledge that the initiator is also in need of this type of ministry as well. The one who loves and confronts must also know they need this same sort of ministry from others.

This book has been incredibly helpful in my understanding of ministry, both as it is my job, but also as it is my life as a Christian. I am called to be ministered to in my need and to minister to others in their need, both within my job as an RUF intern and as a person in Christ living life.

Romans; Lake Street Dive; Penny & Sparrow

I recently concluded another reading of Romans. This book has proved to be a favorite book of Scripture for me. It is quite cerebral and theologically intense. However, as I read it, all I wanted to do was to compare it to music – not the intellectual response to Romans I have had in the past. I was reading chapter 7, and immediately my mind went to two songs: “Mistakes” by Lake Street Dive and “Double Heart” by Penny & Sparrow. This is the passage that called my attention to these songs:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now If I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

(Romans 7:13-25 ESV)

In this passage, the reader hears Paul honestly confess his inconsistent behaviors, thoughts, and motivations. He has a desire for the good, yet he often finds himself doing the very opposite of that good he desires. And yes, this passage is all in the present tense. Paul, as a Christian, both desires the good, and does not always live according to this desire for the good. Paul exegetes his actions and his desires: he has two laws waging war within himself, the law of God and the law of sin. The flesh and the Spirit are waging war within him.

And who can deliver Paul from this body of death? God, through Jesus Christ! Thanks be to Him!


This directly drew my attention to the song “Mistakes” by Lake Street Dive:

I know the outcome
and I’m not blind
I’ve been standing right here before
and I do it every time

I never think I lose,
but it’s a losing game
and I’m breaking all the rules
thinking that I’m gonna change

Oh, it’s good
that these men don’t know each other
I got one who’s working undercover
trying to solve my mystery

Look at what mistake
I’m making now
I’m jumping right on in
When I know it’s gonna end somehow
Look at what mistake
I’m making now
I’m jumping right on in
When I know it’s gonna end somehow

I’ve told these stories
and I’ve said these lies
I ignore what my heart tells me
and I break it every time

I never think I lose
but it’s a losing game
and I’m breaking all the rules
thinking that I’m gonna change

Oh, it’s good
that these men don’t know each other
Well, every time I lose one, I can just move on
I always find another

Look at what mistake
I’m making now
I’m jumping right on in
When I know it’s gonna end somehow
Look at what mistake
I’m making now
I’m jumping right on in
When I know it’s gonna end somehow

Look at what mistake
I’m making now
Cause I know it,
Cause I know it’s gonna end somehow

When Christians look at their sins, it can often feel like a constant inconsistency in their lives. Aren’t we living for Christ? But I keep on sinning! Not only in new, surprising ways, but in ways that I have done since I was a child! Why do I do this? “I’ve been standing right here before / and I do it every time!” “I’ve told these stories / and I’ve said these lies!”

What is my hope in this “losing game?” Jesus Christ our Lord is our hope in our lives of sin. He who was sinless and died for our sins,  is victor over our sin and death. In addition to this victory, God is waging war on this present sin that has lost its power.


Next, I thought of a song from Penny & Sparrow’s latest album, “Double Heart:”

Our clothes
On the shore I know
Is not the best place to start

Although
Undeniable
You’ve captured half of my double heart

Please go fall apart
Thump and flood, restart
Come on double heart

Your mind
Not the same as mine
It’s blood and wine
It’s myth and man

But still
I can drink my fill
And hope you will be
Close at hand

Please go fall apart
Thump and flood, restart
Come on double heart

Keep or let go
It’s worth it
Keep or let go
It’s worth it
Keep or let go
It’s worth it
Keep or let go
It’s worth it
Keep or let go
It’s worth it

Please go fall apart
Thump and flood, restart
Come on double heart
Come on double heart
Come on double heart
Come on double heart

Lord, I feel only half of my heart is captured by you. Please take my whole heart and make it one set on worshipping you. Stop my heart, restart it, and make it whole and wholly for you. Like the old hymn, “O Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” says: “Tune my heart to sing thy grace.” Take and seal my heart, “seal it for Thy courts above.” And as the Psalmist says:

“Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name.”

(Psalm 86:11 ESV)

Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 19

Q: What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?
A: All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all the miseries of this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever.


Reflection: The primary consequence of sin was the loss of communion with God.

Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 18

Q: Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A: The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.


Reflection: Here we see a distinction between sinfulness and sin itself. These two realities are connected but different. Man, because of Adam’s initial instance of rebellion, is born into a sinful nature. From that nature flow all other instances of particular rebellion. We are not born into righteousness until we sin. By Adam’s rebellion, we are born in sinfulness, and from that sinfulness we commit our own acts of sin.

Westminster Shorter Catechism, Questions 15-17

15 Q: What was the sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created?
A: The sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created, was their eating the forbidden fruit.

16 Q: Did all mankind fall in Adam’s first transgression?
A: The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression.

17 Q: Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?
A: The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.


Reflection: A covenant was made with Adam and his kind. That covenant was broken. Thus, Adam and his kind all fell into sin and misery in this one act of rebellion. Yet, there is one, outside of the “ordinary generation” of Adam, that would come to uphold and renew this covenant for all mankind. This man, God Himself, came to uphold our side of the covenant so that we might be brought out of sin and misery.

Westminster Shorter Catechism, Questions 13 and 14

Question 13

Q: Did our first parents continue in the estate wherein they were created?
A: Our first parents, being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the estate wherein they were created, by sinning against God.

Reflection: Man was not created in sin. By their freedom of will, Adam and Eve rebelled against God, introducing sin into the cosmos.


Question 14

Q: What is sin?
A: Sin is any want of conformity to, or transgression of, the law of God.

Reflection: Sin does not merely include the active overstepping of God’s law, but anything not in conformity with that law. Sin does not only include action, but also inaction.