Recommended Reading: Newton On The Christian Life

One of the best books on Christian living that I’ve read in 2015 is Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ (Theologians on the Christian Life) by Tony Reinke.

Reinke does the research to glean Newton’s pastoral letters and his book is full of practical, God-centered, Christ exalting instruction. It will give you those much needed gut punch reminders, while gently pointing you back to Christ and our need for the gospel.

Below are some of my favorite quotes and highlights from the first five chapters. I urge you to pick up a copy and enjoy the combo of Reinke and Newton.

“The Christian life is not comfortable. God makes us no promises to remove difficult circumstances, or alleviate our pains, or protect us from suffering, but he does promise sufficient grace for all our wants and needs.”
~Tony Reinke

“Grace sustains the bruised reed, binds up the broken heart, and cherishes the smoking flax into a flame. Grace restores the soul when wandering, revives it when fainting, heals it when wounded, upholds it when ready to fall, teaches it to fight, goes before it in battle, and at last makes it more than conqueror over all opposition, and then bestows a crown of everlasting life.”
~John Newton

“All scenarios we face in this life are navigated by a Scripture map which always seek to point the Christian soul to the all-sufficient Christ.”
~Tony Reinke

“In ourselves we are all darkness, confusion, and misery; but in him there is a sufficiency of wisdom, grace, and peace suited to all our wants. May we  ever behold his glory in the glass of the Gospel.”
~John Newton

“Sometimes we open the Bible and everything just seems flat and dull. At this point we engage in a fight for joy, a fight for faith to cling to what is true and what is supremely satisfying.”
~Tony Reinke

“Nothing undercuts the Christian life like Christ-amnesia — thinking we can live safely for a moment without Christ, without his atoning blood, and without renewed communion with him. ”
~John Newton

“When we fail to trust God, the difficulties of life loom larger, sting harder, and weigh heavier.”
~Tony Reinke

“The job of the sin-sick Christian is to repent and turn from sin and press into Christ for continued healing. In him we find our Infallible Physician for our sin-sick souls.”
~John Newton

Physician of my sin-sick soul,
To thee I bring my case;
My raging malady control,
And heal me by thy grace.
~John Newton

May you find healing and be strengthened to fight on as you journey through life while clinging to God’s Word and his amazing grace.


The Prince & Poetic Effort

I recently completed John Piper’s book, Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully: The Power of Poetic Effort in the Work of George Herbert, George Whitefield, and C. S. Lewis (The Swans Are Not Silent). It’s part of The Swans Are Not Silent series and to me this is the best so far. However, I could be a bit biased as this is an area of passion for me, a passion for the Prince of Peace and the poetic effort to see and savor Him, while pointing others to do the same.

In the Introduction, Piper tackles a tremendous question and one of his biggest fears. Does poetic effort contradict Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians  1:17?  In Paul’s writing he says, “I …did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech and wisdom.”  On this topic Piper notes that, “there is a way to speak the gospel — a way of eloquence or cleverness of human wisdom — that nullifies the cross of Christ.”  He states it’s a fearful thing to run the risk of contradicting Scripture, but “the risk is unavoidable” because words are required. Piper writes:

Every person who seeks to commend Christ with words faces this issue. And we cannot do without words in commending Christ. We know him in the words of Scripture, and the Scriptures themselves teach us how indispensable words are in the Christian life.

And we cannot just quote Scripture. We must talk about it. Explain it. Exult in it. Defend it. Commend it. Herald it. Pray it.

Should I do the hard work of thinking about these things but not share it with anyone?

The effort to put the truth of God, and all his ways and works, into fresh language — something that may have never been spoken before — is a way of coming near to God.

He goes on to explain Paul’s writing and gives six reasons for defending poetic effort including examples of the use of poetry in Scripture. He then highlights the different ways Herbert, Whitefield, and Lewis modeled the use of poetic effort in their lives. It’s not just about writing poetry like Herbert did, it includes the preaching of Whitefield and “his God-given oratorical abilities”, and the prose of Lewis, whom Piper, while pointing out their theological differences, calls “a master thinker and master likener — a master of poetic effort in story and essay.”

The theme throughout each of their lives was a poetic effort of seeing and saying things for the glory of God in Christ. We may never see talent like these men again, but we have the same Christ, the same wonder, and various gifts to glorify Him in unique ways. How are you using your gifts and abilities? How can you incorporate poetic effort in service of the Lord?

In the Chapter on George Herbert, Piper writes:

The role of the poet is to be God’s echo. Or God’s secretary. To me, Herbert’s is one of the best descriptions of the Christian poet:  “Secretarie of thy praise.”

O Sacred Providence, who from end to end
Strongly and sweetly movest! shall I write,
And not of thee, through whom my fingers bend
To hold my quill? shall they not do thee right?

Of all the creatures both in the sea and land
Only to Man thou has made known thy wayes,
And put the penne alone into his hand,
And made him Secretarie of thy praise.

(From Herbert’s poem: “Providence”)

So what is poetic effort? Piper explains it several different ways:

Every Christian is called to speak of God’s excellencies.

The effort to say freshly is a way of seeing freshly. The effort to say strikingly is a way of seeing strikingly. The effort to say beautifully is a way of seeing beauty.

The effort to put the glimpse of glory into striking or moving words makes the glimpse grow.

The effort to put the excellencies into worthy words is a way of seeing the worth of the excellencies. The effort to say more about the glory than you have ever said is a way of seeing more than you have ever seen.

Poetic effort is a way — a pervasively biblical way, a historically proven way — of seeing and savoring and showing the glory of God.

Poetic effort is the effort to see and savor and speak of the wonder — the divine glory — that is present everywhere in the world.

…may he grant us a humble, Christ-exalting poetic habit of speaking his wonders…in words of seasonable joyousness, honey sweetness, golden fitness, and gracious saltiness. May he do it so that we ourselves might first taste, then tell.



Highlighting Harps Unhung

Harps Unhung: Praising God in the Midst of Captivity is a recently released poetry project by Eileen and Vicki Anderson. The mother/daughter team authored 150 poems based on the 150 Psalms using 150 unique poetry forms. The result is an artful and powerful journey into the beauty of the Psalms through the lens of their own laments and praise.

The vision for the project came from Eileen who completed 75 of the Psalm poems before she died of ovarian cancer in March 2013.  That’s when Vicki picked up the project, pursued the world of poetry, and persevered to honor her mom, while dealing with her own scars and surgeries.

The title comes from Psalm 137:1-3 (NIV):

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

In the preface Vicki explains their work in more detail:

Our vision for this book of poetry is that hurting, hopeless saints, in the very midst of the furnace of affliction, would, despite all perceived silence from God and feelings of abandonment, believe that just above their heads, seen only by the eyes of faith, is an unfurled banner, flapping wildly in the storms of heartache and suffering, it’s embroidered letters spelling out, “Love! My banner over you is LOVE!”.

I’m highlighting their book because I know many who are hurting and struggling with their own life circumstances, and I hope this will be a resource that ministers healing and encouragement. I also like how the authors urge readers to read the poems and the Biblical Psalms side by side to gain a deeper perspective.

Another reason I purchased Harps Unhung is because it’s a good reference for those who write poetry as they give a helpful index of the 150 poetical forms used. One of my personal goals is to write a song or hymn for all 150 Psalms, so this work is near my heart as well.

Have you considered authoring your own creative writing project based on the Psalms?

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