Bible, Church, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus, Missional Living, Preaching, Redeemer Church

Advice for Listening to Preaching (Part 4)

Preaching is explaining and applying the Bible. The Bible calls us to “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). We need to read the Bible, but sitting at home alone reading it is not sufficient for a healthy spiritual life. Every Christian needs the preaching of God’s Word. Therefore, we need a renewed understanding of preaching as a spiritual discipline or a means of grace. Spiritual disciplines are biblical habits that promote spiritual growth. These biblical habits are how God pours out his grace in order to conform us to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). If preaching is a means of grace, how can everyday Christians be equipped through listening to the preaching of God’s Word?

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First, be prayerful to prepare your heart to hear God’s Word. Most Christians do not pop out of bed in the morning excited to hear a sermon. Therefore, we need the Spirit’s help. We need to pray to God to give us a heart to hear what we need to hear from the upcoming sermon.

Second, learn how you learn. Some people are classified as audible learners while others are visual learners. Some are active learners while others are reflective learners. While some learn through sequential steps others are called global learners. Learning how you are wired can help you develop proactive strategies to better hear God’s Word.

Third, take notes. The sermon is primarily an audible experience. However, even if you are a visual learner take notes on what you are hearing. Pastors should develop sermon notes and ways for the congregation to fill in blanks. Related, preachers should make the main points clear. However, preachers should not make the note taking too obvious. Sequential learners need to see the flow of thought, but global learners need to figure some things out for themselves. Even if your pastor does not provide sermon notes, everyone learns best with a pen in their hand writing down key concepts as well as notable truths.

Fourth, listening to a sermon and taking notes will require someone to develop their concentration abilities. The success of apps like Tic Tock and the success of TED Talks highlight our generation’s short attention spans. Pray for God to help you concentrate. Make it a game to see how long you can focus. Remember, concentration can be developed.

Fifth, in your mind or on your sermon notes, ask the “so, what?” questions. Educators understand that one of the best ways to motivate students to learn is to quickly show the relevance and usefulness of their lesson. God is communicating through every verse in the Bible, therefore our role is to determine the relevance of the passage. When we are listening to a sermon we need to ask questions like: what do I need to believe, what do I need to turn from, how does this passage convict me, how does this verse encourage me, what does this say about my heart, what does this Scripture teach me about Jesus and his gospel grace? Keep your mind active by discovering how your pastor’s sermon can transform your thinking, emotions, and behaviors.

During the pandemic we have all been reminded of the charge from Hebrews 10:25 to not neglect the habit of meeting together. For a season we had to neglect this habit. However, one of the main reasons we meet together is to hear the preaching of God’s Word. The sermon is meant to be a communal experience. Everyday Christians are designed to come together and collectively hear the Word preached. Together we are to learn and be admonished and encouraged. Together we are to believe and repent. Together we are to remember the good news of the gospel. Brothers and sister, do not neglect the hearing of God’s Word preached. We all need it. It is a gift, a means of God’s grace. I pray your pastor sees you this Sunday with your Bible open and your pen in hand!

 

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Bible, Church, Church Planting, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus, Missional Living, Preaching, Redeemer Church

Preaching as a Means of Grace (Part 3)

Preaching is explaining and applying the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation we see that communication of God’s Word leads to life. In fact, the biblical model of someone experiencing new life and being born again is through the avenue of the preaching of God’s Word. Therefore, the Bible itself calls us to “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). We need to read the Bible, but sitting at home alone reading it is not sufficient for a healthy spiritual life. Every Christian needs the preaching of God’s Word. Therefore, we need a renewed understanding of preaching as a means of grace.

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Spiritual disciplines are biblical habits that promote spiritual growth. 1 Timothy 4:7 calls us to train ourselves in order to become godlier. However, we have to be careful and not make the mistake of the Pharisees in believing the discipline is the godliness. Christians, unlike the Pharisees, understand spiritual practices are a means to an end. Further, another mistake of the Pharisees was living out their spirituality in their own strength. Moralism, being good or righteous through human strength, is contrary to the gospel. For example, in Philippians 2:12 God calls us to obey and to work out our salvation with “fear and trembling.” However, he goes onto say in Philippians 2:13 that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” As a result, not only is godliness the goal of our spiritual habits, but we cannot ultimately do them out of our own strength. Therefore, it is helpful to think of spiritual disciplines as means of grace. These biblical habits are how God pours out his grace in order to conform us to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29).

Biblically, we see a series of ways God’s grace conforms people into the image of Jesus. Bible reading is key to spiritual growth. Prayer is a vital means of grace. Ministry and service are also hallmarks of a healthy spiritual life that leads to godliness. However, listening to preaching is also essential. Ephesians 4:11 says that God has given the church individuals gifted as apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. Each of those god-gifted roles requires preaching. Paul goes onto explain the reason God has given us those ministers. He says they are given “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). Their preaching is a means of grace to help everyday Christians mature to the point of doing ministry. Like prayer or Bible reading or good works, preaching is a means of grace given to each and every Christian.

As you approach Sunday morning, I challenge you to view the hearing of a sermon by your pastor as a means of grace. God has given you that church and that pastor and that sermon and that moment to mold you into the image of Jesus and prepare you for life and ministry.

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Bible, Church, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus, Missional Living, Preaching, Redeemer Church

Preaching Defined (Part 2)

If the Bible comes from inside God and is thus truthful and useful to equip us for good works, then what should we do with it? 2 Timothy 4:2 says we are to “preach the word.” We are to proclaim or herald the good news of the Bible. It is truth and it teaches us how to live faithfully. We should urgently tell the world what it teaches. People need to know, therefore the church has a mission to “preaching the word.” But, what does preaching really mean?

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Definitions of preaching abound. Sadly, due to so much unfaithful preaching, definitions have to be narrowed to Christian preaching as well as expository preaching. A technical definition for expository preaching is needed as well as a simpler more straight-forward one. First, expository preaching consists of a Christian preacher uncovering an author’s intended meaning of a section of the Bible by means of the historical, grammatical, literal (consistent with the genre of the passage) exegesis as well as enlightenment by the Holy Spirit; then structuring a sermon not only built around the central idea of the text but also the structure and thought of the text; then placing the passage within the metanarrative of redemptive history; then interpreting a universal principle which he first applies to himself; and concluding by applying the Scripture through the power of the Holy Spirit to his audience. Like most technical definitions, that was a mouthful! However, notice the definition includes five key components: exegesis, central idea and structure, metanarrative, universal principle, and application. Second, expository preaching is simply defined as a sermon that explains and applies the passage preached. But, why is it so important for a pastor to explain and apply the Bible?

Churches and pastors should commit to preach the Bible because of the example given to us throughout the Scriptures. Beginning in Genesis 1, we learn that God ultimately creates by speaking creation into existence. His Word (or communication) is what brings life. Another interesting example is the account of the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37. God brings his prophet to a valley filled with bones. The bones are so dead they are described as dry. Again, God’s chosen method of bringing life is the communication of his Word. The prophet is told to preach of the dry bones. As a result of his proclamation the bones come to life. In the book of Ezra we read of God’s people rebuilding the temple. We see scenes of God’s people gathering in order to hear the prophet explain and apply God’s Word. As a result, we see a familiar Old Testament phrase that the people are doing things “as it is written” (Ezra 3:2). Faithfulness to the preaching and explanation of God’s Word led to the application of rebuilding the temple.

We also see helpful examples in the New Testament where God’s Word is explained and applied. Between the testaments the synagogue system was established. Throughout the land of Israel buildings were built with the primary purpose of reading the Scriptures then explaining and applying them. Jesus provided us an example in Luke 24 where he appeared on the Road to Emmaus. He walked and talked with two who followed him but strangely do not recognize him. Jesus proceeded to explain the meaning of all the Bible to them. Then, upon hearing his explanations God enabled them to see Jesus. A great example of faithful preaching was Peter’s sermon in Acts 2. He explained and applied texts like Joel 2 and Psalm 16 in order to call the crowd to repent and believe. Thousands were born again at the preaching of God’s Word. Finally, we are given an interesting account in Acts 8 that helps us further understand the importance of preaching. The Spirit led Philip to an Ethiopian Eunuch reading the book of Isaiah. The problem was the man needed to do more than just read it because he did not understand it. In Acts 8:30, Philip asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?”Understanding was what he lacked therefore he needed more than just reading. The Ethiopian Eunuch needed preaching. Philip proceeded to explain and apply the Bible to him resulting in the man’s salvation.

Again, preaching is explaining and applying the Bible. Communication of God’s Word leads to life. In fact, the biblical model of someone experiencing new life and being born again is through the avenue of the preaching of God’s Word. We need to read the Bible, but sitting at home alone reading it is not sufficient for a healthy spiritual life. Every Christian needs the preaching of God’s Word. Therefore, we need a renewed understanding of preaching as a means of grace.

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Bible, Church, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus, Missional Living, Preaching, Redeemer Church

Preaching for Everyday Christians (Part 1)

It is common to wonder about the role of sermons in the lives of everyday Christians. Why do pastors spend so much time preparing a weekly sermon? Wouldn’t it be better if he spent more time in meetings with teams of leaders, counseling the hurting, building relationships with visitors, or discipling young believers? Of course, those are all key aspects of pastoral ministry. However, every Christian should recognize the role of preaching in their lives. Further, they should devote themselves to listening to biblical preaching. Even though we live in an age with multimillion-dollar action movies and TED talks, the weekly sermon in an local church is key to the spiritual growth of everyday Christians. Ordinary believers need to understand the Sunday sermon is grounded in a deep theology of the Word of God. Further, listening to sermons is essential for our spiritual growth. The church also needs a revival in our understanding of preaching as an avenue of grace. Spiritual maturity is linked to our ability to soak up a faithful sermon. Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the role of the sermon in our corporate worship as a needed reminder of the gospel.

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2 Timothy 3:16 teaches, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” This phrase means God’s Word comes from inside of him. This truth is the ground for the biblical doctrine of inerrancy. The New Hampshire Confession of Faith (1833) is the origin of the Baptist Faith and Message 1925, 1963, and 2000. All four documents explain the Bible is truth “without any mixture of error.” The reason his Word cannot be mixed with any untruth is that only truth is found inside God. The Bible, therefore, is truth.

2 Timothy 3:16 builds on this idea to explain that because Scripture is from inside God and thus truthful it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” As truth “without any mixture of error” the Bible is useful. Specifically, the Bible is beneficial for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. God provides his Word for us to learn doctrine. We need to know it theoretically in order to apply it practically. Speculation leads to application. His Word is how God chooses to reprove or convict. We perceive our sin as sin through Scripture convicting us. Therefore, the Bible corrects or makes straight what was crooked. It shows us the way we should go. As a result, it trains, educates, and disciplines us to live according to God’s way. The pathway to righteousness is through the Bible. The end result is that the Bible equips us “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).

If the Bible comes from inside God and is thus truthful and useful to equip us for good works, then what should we do with it? 2 Timothy 4:2 says we are to “preach the word.” We are to proclaim or herald the good news of the Bible. It is truth and it teaches us how to live faithfully. We should urgently tell the world what it teaches. People need to know, therefore the church has a mission to “preach the word.”

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Bible, Devotional Reading, Gospel Spirituality

What is faithfulness selling?

Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.“ (Hebrews 11:35)

We tend to seek our happiness in this life versus the next. Some have quibed that one can be too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. As a result, our focus can be on our paneled houses (Haggai 1:4) rather than our heavenly home. As a middle-class American living in the suburbs I feel the temptation to seek happiness in material things. I feel the tug to pour my energy into earthly plans. However, I have also seen how those temptations can pull my focus and energy away from faithfully following the Lord and spreading his gospel message.

Hebrews 11 is the great Hall of Faith passage. These examples are held up as virtuous ideals for us to follow. Hebrews 11 provides a vision for the faithful life. Hebrews 11, therefore, is important because faithfulness is the great biblical virtue that leads to salvation.

But, an interesting thing happens in the middle of Hebrews 11:35. The first sentence reads, “Women received back their dead by resurrection.” This is likely a reference 1 Kings 17:22-23 and 2 Kings 4:36. I find it very appealing when I read that a result of faithfulness is resurrection from the dead. My hope is in heaven and seeing those beloved friends and family again. Further, I wish that faith worked like a magic formula and could have kept those beloved from not dying. If faithfulness is selling resurrection from the dead, I’m buying!

However, the interesting twist is the second sentence of Hebrews 11:35. It reads, “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.” This is likely a reference to the suffering of God’s People during the Maccabean revolt. Most middle-class American suburbanites will likely pause their purchase if faithfulness is selling torture and imprisonment. However, faithfulness leading to torture and imprisonment is a “better life” here and leads to a “better life” in the hereafter. Hebrews 11:36 is teaching us about a “better life” than self absorbed materialism in this world.

This verse reminds us of those faithful Huguenot women who chose decades in the Tower of Constance rather than recanting their gospel faith for a works based righteousness. They grew old in that tower. They were cold and hungry in that tower. They lost their children in that Tower. However, they found something in that Tower that is better than anything this world can offer. Because their faithfulness was not based upon gaining this world, they gained a “better life” in the world to come.

Faithfulness is about being so heavenly minded that you end up becoming earthly good. Pursue faithfulness to the Word, hope in heaven, and you will “rise again to a better life.”

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Bible, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality

BOOK REVIEW “Controlling Anger: Responding Constructively When Life Goes Wrong” by David Powlison

Powlison’s booklet is the best starting point to understand the nature of anger and how to express anger in healthy righteous ways. Controlling Anger is published by New Growth Press in partnership with CCEF. It is only fifteen pages and can be downloaded to Kindle. Students and adults will both find it readable. This booklet is a great summary of the Bible’s view of anger and the solutions it provides.

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Powlison begins by noting, “Anger needs to be acknowledged and expressed in a positive way, as a form of doing what is good and right.” We become angry when something is important to us and when we believe that something is wrong. Therefore, anger in and of itself is not bad. But, the problem is when we get angry about things that we should not get angry about. Anger can also go wrong when the thing we think is important becomes more important to us than God himself. Anger can also be a problem when we “respond to a true wrong in the wrong way.”

The solution to our anger problems begin with believing  God is in charge and thus the judge. This solution is not about superficial techniques and strategies, but about genuinely believing gospel truths. This enables us to make our anger redemptive. God sent his son to die to make right what was wrong. In a similar way we can bear the burden of a wrong and forgive the wrongdoer. Gospel approaches to anger lead to constructive responses. Powlison explains that applying the gospel to our anger leads to patience, mercy, forgiveness, and honesty.

What I find most helpful about Powilson’s booklet is his practical tool to express anger constructively. In short, he calls angry people to go to God for help. When we are angry he tells us to ask ourselves four questions. First, “What is happening around me when I get angry?” This question helps us understand the heart of our anger. Second, “How do I act when I get angry?” This step is also about understanding the nature of our anger especially how we express it in sinful ways. Third, “What were my expectations (what did I want, need, demand) when I became angry?” This question leads us to discover how we are playing God in the situation. Fourth, “What message does God, in his Word, have for me that will speak to my anger?” This drives us to the Bible to find solutions. Finally, Powlison calls angry people to ask God for help. He reminds us that God loves us and desires to change us.

I recommend this booklet as a first step for those struggling with anger. If you struggle with anger, God is loving enough and powerful enough to help. Go to him!

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Book Review, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality

BOOK REVIEW: “Overcoming Anxiety: Relief for Worried People” by David Powlison

Powlison’s booklet is the best starting point for people trying to understand their anxiety. It is published by New Growth Press, is only 16 pages, and can be downloaded to Kindle. The booklet is a readable summary of the problem of anxiety as well as how the gospel is the solution.

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He begins by explaining there is “a right kind of anxiety that leads us to express loving concern for others in the midst of their trouble.” There are also a number of valid reasons to be anxious. However, anxiety can become a problem, even sinful, when we overreact to legitimate problems and become too upset about troubles. Powlison summarizes, “In every situation where you feel sinfully anxious, you believe something is threatening your world. Your world feels out of control; you are afraid something bad might happen; and you are trying to control your world to keep bad things from taking place.”

Faith in God is the solution when we are anxious. Powilson explains, “When we lose sight of God, we try to control our world on our own, and become filled with worry.” But, the solution is that “God wants us to know him so intimately and trust him so completely that our desire to fix our troubles in our own way will no longer consume us.” A helpful verse when we are anxious is Psalm 94:19, “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, your consolations delight my soul.”

Powilson then takes the reader to Philippians 4:5-7 in order to highlight some key truths to believe when we are anxious. First, the Lord is near (Philippians 4:5). He explains, “When you know that Jesus is near, the worried, obsessed, sinful anxiety dissipates.” Second, the Lord is listening (Philippians 4:6). Third, the Lord is guarding you with his peace (Philippians 4:7). Believing these truths leads to the opposite of anxiety which is contentment.

Powlison closes with some practical tips including making your request known to God, parking your mind on what you know is true, tackling the real problem the right way, and understanding your anxiety attacks. He also addresses the question of whether people should take medication when they are anxious. He explains that anxiety medication alleviates symptoms, but does not address the underlying problem. This does not mean he advocates not taking the medicine because they can help someone calm down. However, medicine should not replace “the hard work of learning to trust God and depend upon him.”

If you are struggling with anxiety, grab Powilson’s booklet and hear his closing encouragement, “Take a step of faith, and decide today to go to God with your anxiety. He will not disappoint you.”

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Book Review, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality

BOOK REVIEW: “Help! I Get Panic Attacks” by Lucy Ann Moll

If you struggle with panic attacks Lucy Ann Moll’s mini book is a great place to start on your journey of discovering how the gospel helps you. This is only 64 pages and can be read in a couple of evenings. She does a great job of providing biblical counsel, but also acknowledges the place of medicine.

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Over four chapters she shares her own journey with panic attacks, but also some biblical ways to think about being overcome with fear as well as some gospel solutions and practical tips. From experience she boldly proclaims, “God can also use your panic attacks for good.”

In the first chapter she explains a panic attack as “an extreme fear experience which is out of proportion to the actual situation.” She acknowledges healthy fear, but puts panic attacks in the category of unhealthy fears. She also addresses the physical symptoms of panic attacks as well as how they can be treated. Moll provides a healthy discussion on the role medicine does and does not play in addressing panic attacks.

In the second chapter she links the Bible’s treatment of terror with our understanding of panic attacks. I think this is a fair link, however this is one of the challenges for Christians. We cannot always make these types of links and we should always strive for a biblical understanding of our problems.

The third chapter focuses on how we can move from fearful to faithful. This is how the gospel is the solution to panic attacks. After looking at a number of biblical examples she concludes that each of these people “focused on their circumstances rather than on God’s power and care.” This comment is the problem that causes panic attacks. She goes further to explain the “root of ungodly fear is belief in a lie.” We need to face the lies we are believing.

In the fourth chapter she explains the ultimate solution as fearing God alone. Battling against panic attacks requires us to watch our thoughts, change our thoughts, and then put off fear by putting on faith. In her fourth chapter she provides a helpful tool she calls the Fear-to-Faith Template. She also closes the read with some practical projects to help us turn our fear to faith.

Again, I think reading this mini book is a great first step for anyone struggling with panic attacks. She provides biblical counsel, provides a balanced holistic approach, and gives the reader practical tips and projects to turn fear into faith.

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Book Review, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality

BOOK REVIEW: Depression: The Way Up When You’re Feeling Down

Many of us have been haunted by depression. The first resource I recommend someone struggling with depression is Ed Welch’s booklet. It is only 32 pages and thus can be read in one day. Even though it is short, it gets to the heart of the problem of depression as well as providing gospel solutions and practical tips on how to fight when depressed.

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Welch begins by explaining how depression is ultimately a spiritual problem. He argues “Depression reveals us, not just the chemical composition of our brain,” (27). When we are depressed we can’t trust our feelings. Many times we don’t feel like doing anything. When we are numb we are to “learn another way to live,” (4). The new way of living is to “believe and act on what God says rather than feel what God says. It is living by faith,” (4). When we are depressed and debating what our feelings are saying and what Scriptures says, Welch explains that “Scripture wins,” (4).

Next, Welch asks, “What is your depression saying?” and “What does it mean?” He acknowledges that our feelings teach us about our perceptions of our circumstances. Exploring our feelings can teach us that we are afraid or ashamed or angry. Hunting why we are depressed should reveal what is wrong with our heart. Ultimately we are to identify what is wrong and grow by trusting the Lord. Maybe we have made an idol out of something and he is calling us to trust him while not obtaining what we want. Ultimately we are to faithfully respond, “I know that my Redeemer is with me, and I will humbly wait for his deliverance,” (17).

Exploring the condition of our heart leads us down a path asking a series of “why” questions.  However, Welch explains that we should follow the path that leads to God if we want to come up out of depression. The more we can look at the “whys” of our depression through a gospel lens, the more accurately we can diagnose the condition of our hearts and find hope in Jesus. He explains, “If you think about what your depression is saying and it takes you all the way to your relationship with Christ, then don’t stop on that journey until you have heard something good,” (20). Welch also comments, “Remember that if you have put your faith in Jesus, you are forgiven, adopted, beloved, and delighted in. You must start thinking the way God thinks, not the way you think,” (20).

Welch closes with eleven practical tips on how to battle depression as well as a charge to not give up. I particularly like the sixth tip: “Each day, speak or write something that can be an encouragement to others. You have a calling. There are people to love, to care for, to help,” (20). I also appreciate the eight tip: “Keep a sharp eye out for grumbling and complaining,” (20). Welch acknowledges, “Depression is hard. No matter what its origin, it doesn’t leave without a fight. But don’t be discouraged. There are good reasons to enter into the fight. Changes are guaranteed (Phil. 1:6),” (23).

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Counseling, Gospel Spirituality

BOOK REVIEW: The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness

Contemporary culture has a plurality of opinions of how to view human identity. For some, self-esteem is the ultimate virtue to achieve. The spirituality of many is that if they could only have a higher view of themselves then they would be happy. However, the Bible has better news. Tim Keller’s “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness” is important because a wrong view of personal identity is leading to wasted unhappy lives.

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Keller’s work is a booklet made up of 46 short pages and three chapters. It can be read in a lunch hour. He opens by asking, “What are the marks of a heart that has been radically changed by the grace of God?” (5). Next, Keller unpacks 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7. He explains that different than most cultures throughout history “Our belief today – and it is deeply rooted in everything – is that people misbehave for lack of self-esteem and because they have too low a view of themselves” (10).

Regarding the problem of our natural condition he says, “Spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God,” (15). The solution is to avoid the trap of seeking self-esteem by other people’s standards. Rather, “Paul is saying something astounding, ‘I don’t care what you think and I don’t care what I think,’” (31). The result is not needing to think too much or too highly about ourselves. Keller says, “A truly gospel-humble person is not a self-hating person or a self-loving person, but a gospel-humble person,” (33). The way to live this way is to allow the verdict of the gospel to lead our performance versus the other way around. In other words, “Self-forgetfulness takes you out of the courtroom. The trial is over,” (43). Joy is found through living according to our gospel convictions. Joy is found through gospel-humility. Joy is neither found in self-hating or self-loving, but rather self-forgetting.

This is a tremendous read for anyone struggling with depression. Counseling is a very helpful process, but as people delve deep into heart issues there can be a tendency to become self-absorbed. This process can rob our joy because our eyes are too much on ourselves. His booklet is also helpful for those believing the flesh and the world about where to find happiness. Giving ourselves over to our sinful desires does not lead to joy. Keller’s booklet is a reminder we all need that self-forgetfulness rather than self-esteem is the pathway to joy.

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